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Are Leaders Born or Made? The Top 5 Leadership Mistakes

 

Do you manage staff?

If so, there’s a good chance you feel like you are out on your own, under-supported, and potentially lacking the knowledge you need to do your job effectively. Are leaders born or made? Many higher level managers believe that leaders are ‘natural’, and this assumption tends to discourage them from bothering to develop and coach their managers.

I truly 100% believe that most people can be taught to be leaders. While there may be a few genetic advantages that some people have to make them more inclined towards leadership, I think people lacking those genes can still be taught how to lead. Why do I believe this? Because I’ve taught them myself, many times.

I have coached people who are introverted, anti-social and indecisive, into being effective leaders. Maybe they’re not charismatic and sensational, but they get the job done and their staff genuinely appreciate them.

So what I thought I’d do quickly in this post is list the top mistakes I see managers of ground floor staff make. Avoid these and you’ll be on your way to at least satisfactory leadership.

1) GIVING ORDERS

Believe it or not, telling people what to do is ineffective in the long-term. I believe if you are directing people on what to do for more than 10% of decisions, then you are over-doing it.

Yes, sometimes you have to be ‘the boss’ and give orders. But most of the time it will be far more productive for you to coach your staff towards making decisions themselves. You must let go of the fear of them making you look bad, because it’s the only way to ensure that they don’t make you look bad!

Too many managers are control-freaks, which ultimately will be their doom. Why? Because you have created a dependency. Your staff are being trained to be helpless without you around. This means that without you they will fall apart, be unable to make decisions, and generally waste time complaining about you. Further, they will feel demotivated over time. Your turnover will increase while productivity decreases, because their skill-level plateaus and atrophies.

Whenever a staff member comes to you with an issue, you should tell them to come back to you with 3 possible solutions. Then, when they return, commend them on their innovation and work with them to choose a solution. Note: if you outright dismiss their ideas you may as well have never tried in the first place.

If you get your staff to the point where you are simply signing-off on decisions rather than making them, you will create a highly skilled problem-solving team. They will think you’re the best boss ever – even though they’re doing the tough stuff. Fulfilling work is challenging, they will love it, so don’t take away the challenge. Doing so will only make them feel replaceable.

2) NOT GETTING YOUR HANDS DIRTY VS. TOO MUCH GRUNT WORK

Your job is to steer the ship, and you can’t do that if you’re rowing. However, if the ship captain doesn’t show his mates that he can scrub a deck like any of them, resentment and distrust will form. What I mean by this nautical analogy is that you should primarily be doing your job, which is to support and coach your staff, however you must be able to help them with any of their roles.

Guess what? This means you need to know how to do the basics of their jobs! You should learn this as a leader, simply by getting involved (but not micro-managing). Staff love when a manager is genuinely interested in and respectful of their work. Tell them you want to understand the struggles of their role and get them to walk you through it. This way, when there’s sick leave or other random pressures, you can pitch in for a short while to show them you’re on their side. A little goes a long way.

However, don’t go the other way and do their work for them. I see managers working an extra 10 hours per week doing their staff’s work because they are too soft and feel guilty when delegating. This will not gain you staff respect, but it will burn you out.

Steer the ship, occasionally scrub the deck, but let them do the rowing.

3) BEING IMBALANCED AND FAKE WITH FEEDBACK

Most managers have a tendency to be too critical. You spend your whole day telling staff what they get wrong and they will simply hate coming to work.

Try using the model in my article on giving feedback.

My rule is that for every critique of their work you should be able to balance this with at least five separate and genuine praises. Seriously. None of this ‘shit sandwich’ feedback of commend, recommend, commend. Staff know you’re doing it, and it feels fake (unless you are seriously genuine and specific about the commends).

You’re much better off spending your day searching for work you think they did well (or good enough) and giving them warm credit for it. Let them know specifically what they do that you approve of, and then sit back and watch with pleasure as they do more of it. All people are children at heart, we love to get recognition for our strengths, and once you start doing it genuinely you will see performance skyrocket.

I manage almost entirely on strength-based feedback. I simply tell staff what I approve of, what they impressed me with, and so on, and they compensate for their weaknesses or errors by overdoing the good work. I have never had to put a staff member on a performance plan or through any HR processes, despite having poor-performers thrust at me. Within 2-3 months I had them all productive, simply through looking for their strengths and boosting them on it.

4) NOT HAVING A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

The reason you have to put out so many fires every day is because this is the consequence of not having a clear path for staff to follow. I’m not talking about your company’s motto, or high-level morals like “strive for excellence”. I’m talking more about “we will achieve the highest score for customer service in the first quarter, through x, y and z”. Give the staff something to rally behind. BUT…

When I say “give the staff something”, I actually mean they are the ones to create the goal. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful for performance than extrinsic, so guide them towards setting a goal that they can own. Then, at each team meeting, you need to check in with them on progress towards the goals. Any progress should be rewarded significantly, and any decline in progress should be investigated fully.

5) STAYING UP ON YOUR PEDESTAL

This was one of my biggest flaws as a manager in the early days. After years of monitoring offenders who were always trying to manipulate me, I had developed an impenetrable shell. My staff knew nothing about me and rarely saw me have any negative emotions or weakness. Did this make them trust me more as a leader?

Surprisingly, no.

Once my staff had encouraged me to relax my guard a little and let them see the real me, their loyalty to me went up noticeably. All of a sudden I was ‘their boss’, and they would both commend me to other staff as well as defend me to other managers.

Through letting down my guard and relaxing the hierarchy, I still maintained my leadership position, but now was seen as much more approachable. This also made them much more forgiving of my mistakes and more open to my feedback on their performance. I had become one of them, instead of a remote, separate unit.

Some managers go too far with this, socialising drunkenly with staff and getting overly familiar. You should always have a professional boundary in place for them to respect your leadership, you just don’t have to hide your true self from them. Think Richard Branson: the guy is an open book emotionally, yet you have no doubt that he would fire someone if needed.

 

 






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