Words speak louder than actions. Do your actions match your words? It’s easy to send mixed messages without even realizing it. Like many managers, I like to tell my team that I have an open door policy and they can talk to me whenever they need to. Yet, in one of my past roles, few people would come to see me or they would come once the situation had escalated too far.
I had to stop and ask myself why this was happening, so I reached out to my team for feedback. The most common response was that, “I always appeared in a hurry, like I had too much to do”, so my team didn’t want to bother me. While I certainly often had a very full plate, I realized part of that was because I was getting feedback or hearing problems after the fact. I made a conscious effort to slow down and appear relaxed, even if I had a million things on my mind. Staff started to feel more comfortable in approaching me and the work environment was more positive for everyone.
There are many ways we can send mixed messages. Maybe it’s where we spend our time the most, or what how frequently we email on a given subject. I once had a manager tell me that supporting our teams was our top priority, but I never received a single email about supporting our teams. Instead, I received frequent emails about sales numbers. His words didn’t match his actions.
Over the years, I’ve learned to be very conscious of my actions and how they connect to the messages I am trying to promote. Do you have any similar lessons you’ve learned in your work experience?
There is nothing more frustrating than being told different things by different bosses and then having each one try to hold you accountable for their conflicting instructions. As leaders, it’s essential that we communicate well with the other leaders in our organization and that everyone is on the same page. This ensures organizational efficiency, reduces stress, and provides a clear direction for getting things done. Resources are limited in any organization and we have to work as a team with other leaders and other departments to create the best possible outcome. Also, nothing looks more unprofessional than leaders giving conflicting instructions or working towards disparate goals. Having regular leadership meetings is one of the best ways to avoid these situations and reach agreements with other leaders and other departments.
I hear leaders complain all the time about their teams: “This person didn’t complete the project on time.” “This person just can’t seem to get it right.”, “The numbers are below expectations yet again.” You notice in those statements, there was a whole lot of “them” and no “I”.
The reality is that you are the leader and you are accountable for delivering those results, even if you’ve delegated the task to someone else. I bet you tell your team all the time not to point fingers and place blame. Are you leading by example, though? Instead of pointing fingers yourself, we can ask questions related to our own accountability: “Did I provide enough support or coaching to this person?”, “Do I clearly explain my expectations and then listen to them regarding challenges they’ll face in meeting them?”, “What can I do as a leader to help bring those numbers up?”, “Are my expectations in line with what our team and organization are currently capable of?” or even “Did I make the right hiring decision?”.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true. When you point a finger at someone, there are four fingers pointing back at you.
Have you ever used any of these phrases: “Don’t play the victim”, “Regardless, this is what we need and what we are doing”, “I don’t care how you do it, just do it.”? If so, you may be undermining your own goals by losing the respect of your team, not to mention just getting on everyone’s nerves.
Steve Jobs is often sited for his notorious Reality Distortion Field, lauded and criticized at the same time. Your ability as a leader to inspire your team to achieve what they never thought possible is the key to break-through success. However, the opposite end of that is stress, frustration, and resentment when your expectations simply aren’t in line with reality. This is especially true if you demand something and then fail to give any support to bring that goal about.
I’ve worked with many leaders in the past who closed their ears to their teams. Of course, the team members sure talked a lot about that person when they weren’t in the room and most of it was not very flattering. As a leader, you need to know what your team is thinking and you want them to know you respect both their ideas and the challenges they face. For that reason, it’s important to always keep an open mind and listen to their thoughts. This way, you can provide targeted support, your team gets what they need to try and meet your demands, and the relationships remain strong.
There is a very large difference between being solution-oriented and only hearing what you want to hear. Many managers make the extremely large mistake of not being open to hear their team’s ideas in the name of “staying positive”. Sure, sales were at twice this number last year, but there are also two new competitors in the field this year and we downsized our call center. It’s important that your goals and expectations are in line with the current realities of your business. Otherwise, all you do is demoralize your team when you refuse to listen to them and expect the same results in vastly different situations.
It’s always important to focus on what you can do and to provide solutions to any challenges, but your goals still need to be tempered by the reality.
As managers, we often want to do things for our team, especially if we know we can do it faster or more in line with what we want. However, this doesn’t give our team the chance to grow. It might take twice as long to finish the project, but it’ll get done faster next time and now you’ve got someone who you know you can give similar projects to in the future.
Check in, support where needed, and have the patience to let your team learn for themselves. They’re worth it.
Have you ever gotten that angry email from an employee criticizing yourself as a leader? How about the individual making sarcastic remarks that undercut your authority in the meeting?
These things happen all the time and can really get on your nerves. With so much else to worry about, the last thing we need is someone working to push us back down the hill. However, there’s always a silver lining. The people that speak up are at least willing to do so. It’s worth taking the time to listen, at least the first time a concern is brought up. Brazenly negative employees can be a pain to deal with and need to be managed out if they can’t change their attitude. But they are also your most likely source for the things others might be thinking, but not willing to say.
As leaders, we need to look past our defensiveness and try to glean what we can from the information. It might be incredibly frustrating to be told that you’re expecting too much from the team in a vitriolic email, but once you look past the rhetoric, it’s worth evaluating if the information is actually correct. All feedback can be viewed as an opportunity to learn. Maybe you can even surprise the employee by thanking them for their contribution and acting on their feedback.