No one is perfect. We all have our faults. Sometimes our faults and our strengths may even be the same thing, ironically enough. Regardless, as leaders, it’s our responsibility to reflect and ensure our strengths are well leveraged while our faults are well checked, preventing them from becoming “blind spots” and damaging our effectiveness as leaders. While there are countless leadership practices, below are eight reminders based on common mistakes many organizational leaders make without even noticing.
Solve people-based problems with people-based solutions
While policies and procedures provide necessary organizational structure, they do not cure pain points embedded in culture. For this reason, a “new policy” will not improve organizational engagement or curve noncompliance, as these are people-based issues. In these cases, the most effective move a leader can make is to discontinue creating more policies and, instead, begin upholding a new culture.
Prevent exhaustion by monitoring capacity
Human capital is our most valuable asset. Just as coaches train athletes for optimum performance, it’s important we do the same by consistently gauging our team’s capacity, potential and limitations — even under the heaviest of business needs. During times in which business demands that players sprint to win, it’s critical that we carefully choose when and for how long, so as to prevent pushing all-star players into low scoring brackets by miscalculating their burnout threshold. In times in which we sense exhaustion, our best move is to check in with team members with a willingness to listen to what we might not want to hear and a commitment to slowing the game in order to win the season if needed.
Listen to silence
What teams choose not to say is just as important as what they choose to say. The groupthink dynamic that occurs among talkative groups also occurs when groups become silent. Once our verbal team members adopt silence, the rest of the group will follow, insinuating the idea that speaking is “not worth it.” At this point, teams may assume an ethic of compliance over commitment. During these times, it’s important we privately connect with team members with candor and vulnerability, soliciting their help in speaking up again as co-leaders.
Uphold rules over exceptions
As leaders, when we establish standardized rules for a specific business intent, it’s important we honor it. Once we allow an exception to be made, it’s dangerously easy to make another, and another, and so on, only to lose sight of the initial intent, as well as our own credibility. Far too many organizations fall into unrecognizable models due to opening a Pandora’s Box of exceptions. When this habit has metastasized into a runaway train of chaos, leaders must rein it all back in with a disruptive reorganization, anchored with effective checks and balances (controls) to prevent a recurrence.
Create simplicity over complexity
Far too often, individuals perceive simplicity as lacking sophistication and, in response, create complexity for the sake of complexity. Not only does this create unnecessary confusion, but it also fuels an unspoken sense of insecurity as team members overcomplicate work out of fear of appearing unskilled. It also creates a culture of prioritizing being busy over being productive. Every layer of unnecessary complexity has an equal, but opposite, effect on execution. When it appears there are too many priorities in play, or too many variables involved in one effort, our best move is to take a full inventory of all moving parts, rank their necessity and eliminate all nonessential layers.
Respect reporting lines
There’s a significant difference between a “group of people” and an “organization of people.” Whether we like the word “hierarchy” or not, we are, by nature, hierarchical beings in that we instinctively navigate all terrains with order, value and structure. While fostering inclusive cultures that respect the dignity and perspective of all team members is essential for high performance, we must not ignore the organizational reporting lines designed to orchestrate overall performance. Once an organization’s structure becomes so flat and ambiguous that it is virtually nonexistent, we, as leaders, must recalibrate our operating model for sustainability. During these times, our best move is to redefine roles and responsibilities with transparency and accountability.
Build for the long run
It’s always easy to apply convenient quick fixes to close organizational gaps, whether via operational workaround methods or tapping someone on the shoulder for an extra assignment. However, when we do this, we risk building irregular (non-standard) functions by compromising long-term functionality for short-term comfort. Once we arrive at a point by which our operating model has more band-aids than anything, we’ve got to reset. In these cases, our most effective move is to pause and consider which band-aids necessitate permanent residence as part of a new model, which ones need to be swapped with a long-term solution, which ones can be paused and “kept in our back pocket” as contingency plans and which ones can just be ripped off.
Speak to others as if they are their future self
We tend to act in a manner that mirrors the fashion by which we’re spoken to. This is why words of affirmation are so impactful in relationships. As this pertains to leadership, it’s important we speak to our team members in a fashion that acknowledges who (or what) they’re striving to be, not who they were. If we speak to our team members as fellow leaders, they will feel like leaders and mirror this in their behaviors. If we speak to them like rookies, they will follow suit. When we’ve lost this touch, it’s important we pause and rethink what our communication implies about our interpretation of our team members’ talent.
Again, no one is perfect. As leaders, we must own this reality with vulnerability and integrity. Yet, we must also demonstrate a continuous commitment to enhancing our leadership practices with reflection and balance.
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