When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, an acquaintance was working for a large company that, like many companies, laid off employees to remain profitable. However, in his particular department, an unusual thing happened—instead of clinging to their jobs, employees jumped ship (and had been for years)! These employees preferred to risk being unemployed during a recession without unemployment benefits than to stick around under the management of one of the company’s vice presidents. He was impossible to please, didn’t provide adequate direction for projects, and criticized all ideas before turning around and presenting employees’ ideas as his own. Ultimately, his department was disbanded, and his position eliminated.
Unpleasant or ineffectual managers are often one of the primary reasons that employees leave their jobs. One Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults revealed that one in two left a job to get away from their manager and improve their overall life. Luckily, effective management and leadership can be learned. You can avoid the mess the above VP found himself in by increasing your emotional intelligence.
“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” —Javier Pladevall, an automotive executive
The first step toward change is to understand five common behaviors that guarantee a leader will fail. Then try our emotionally intelligent solutions, especially if you recognize yourself in the list below.
Related reading: "The History of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace"
MISTAKE #1: Saying One Thing and Doing Another
When you don’t follow through with what you’ve said, this creates mistrust. Alignment of words and actions creates ease, efficiency, and synergy, which promotes team creativity.
For instance, let’s say an employee tells you they would like to move into a leadership position and feel like they have earned it. You affirm they would be an asset as a leader and that they indeed have shown loyalty to the company. The employee could interpret this statement as a "promise" of a promotion, when, in fact, you have no intention in promoting them. You want to keep them in their current position because they’re the best at their job at a reasonable wage.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: Be deliberate in what you say to employees. Do not talk casually to indicate something different than you intend. And don't commit to anything unless you intend to make it happen. Wait to announce new projects until you’re confident they will become a reality and can allocate resources. In the example above, a more accurate response to the employee would be, “It’s great to see your leadership abilities reflected in your current position. At this time, we have no plans to promote you, because you are too valuable and skilled at your job. We need you there. However, how would you feel about training our new hires in your department?” This shows the employee that they’re valued without making an unspoken promise that isn’t possible or desired.
MISTAKE #2: Providing Ineffective or Hurtful Feedback
Do you remember what it was like to get called on in class only to give the wrong answer? The feeling of embarrassment is exactly what an employee often feels when you haphazardly criticize their work, especially if it’s in front of colleagues.
For example, a manager once told me in a team meeting, “You're great at public speaking. Well… average in small crowds.” So…was I capable or not? Did I need to fix something? I was flummoxed and embarrassed.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: Deliver your feedback in an effective, constructive one-on-one meeting. Prepare yourself so you can express feedback from the heart that is helpful to the employee. A good way to raise the quality of your feedback is to ask yourself, will my feedback:
- give actionable specifics that are helpful?
- empower and motivate the employee to do their job better or create discouragement?
- create goodwill in the relationship or distance?
Then adjust your comments accordingly. When you're ready for a meeting, choose a time that works for both of you. Be respectful, friendly, and concise. Reserve time to listen to the person’s response and brainstorm solutions together or ask the employee to offer specific suggestions. This method increases the likelihood of the feedback being received and acted upon.
Related reading: "How to Give Feedback Effectively for the Best Results"
MISTAKE #3: Withholding Necessary—Sometimes Critical—Information an Employee Needs
This misstep often happens accidentally. You may simply forget to communicate, or you might assume your team has all the needed info. Unfortunately, inadequate information leads to miscommunication, frustration, and delays, and can be discouraging to everyone.For instance, a boss in one company neglected to inform an employee (we’ll call Jeff) that a key person was about to retire. Unbeknownst to Jeff, he was expected to pick up all additional work based on the retirement. He inadvertently found out about the retirement as well as his added workload from an employee in a different department! And even then, it took another 2 weeks for the manager to relay critical information in the transition.
You get the picture!
TRY THIS INSTEAD: Regularly assess the landscape of jobs and company changes. Ensure that employees have the needed information and skills to do their work at a high level. If you do forget or neglect this information exchange, do a personal inventory to be better prepared in the future:
- Is there a strategy to ensure the dissemination of necessary information for employees’ success?
- Are there other unconscious reasons for withholding information? (i.e., you’re afraid of overwhelming an employee or a particular employee gets defensive and acts like a know-it-all). Once the reason is known, you can strategize and handle more proficiently.
- Are there legal or confidentiality reasons you can’t disclose the information? If so, you may need a process for these situations.
MISTAKE #4: Talking Negatively About an Employee
Speaking negatively about anyone is harmful to morale and detrimental to a company’s culture, but especially if you are a manager or leader. When putdowns are modeled, the message is that backbiting and gossip are acceptable behaviors. Allowing even casual negativity, such as sarcasm, creates a lack of emotional safety.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: Self-regulate your knee-jerk reactions and emotions that cause you to criticize unproductively. Determine exactly what you want and then have a productive conversation. Perhaps, the quality of their work is not up to par—find out why! Do they lack training? Did you hire the person too quickly without properly vetting them? Is the person in the right position and job? All negativity is a sign that something needs to change. Stop venting and start acting like a leader.
Another common challenge for a leader is when an employee criticizes a manager or “tattles” on a colleague. Sometimes a leader will indulge the employee in agreement and negative chatter about the person. Do not be tempted. Encourage the employee to handle their concerns directly with their manager or colleague (when appropriate) or support them to improve the situation. Your job as a manager or leader is to ensure the success of the work and your employees, to unify teams while helping to cultivate effective communication and healthy relationships, which culminates in the success of the company. This goodwill also is felt by customers.
Related reading: "How Managing Your Emotional Quotient (EQ) Can Keep You from Workplace Burnout"
MISTAKE #5: Taking Credit for Others’ Work
Taking credit for someone else’s work is dishonest and demoralizing to employees. Employees become disincentivized to produce fantastic work because they don’t receive the benefits that come with pride of execution and the recognition that follows. Taking credit for others’ work also undermines your credibility and trust as a leader.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: Create a culture that celebrates employees’ ideas and successes. Thank them publicly for their contributions and give them opportunities to showcase their work for stakeholders. By helping employees feel essential and confident, you increase creativity and a sense of ownership while also supporting the company as a whole.
As you can see, even one of the above nonproductive behaviors can undermine leadership, a company, and its culture. Often there are several. Pick one or two common mistakes that might be challenging for you and your organization. Then give our solutions a try and grow your emotional quotient (EQ).
Most mishaps in management and leadership can be rectified with emotional intelligence. Maybe if the VP in our opening story had improved his EQ, his department would have been a linchpin in the company, crucial to success, and indispensable during a recession. If you’re ready to create a thriving culture in your organization and would like proven methods and coaching to change any behaviors that are troublesome, contact Heartmanity for Business.