Nobody said being a boss comes without challenges. You’re pulled in multiple directions with ever-changing demands and a team to motivate and engage. In the throes of daily workplace life, your internal compass rarely points towards yourself. When always looking outwards towards projects and deadlines, looking inwards at your own leadership style can remain elusive, and that’s understandable.
If you’re reading this, you clearly care about self-improvement and being the best leader you can be. Self-reflection and self-awareness are vital to overcoming leadership blindspots that could be holding both you and your team back.
Around 64% of employees are reportedly not happy with their boss, while 59% believe that their boss has never appreciated their work. So, what are the leadership missteps that could be responsible for these high percentages?
From overconfidence to having sloppy standards, discover if you embody any of these leadership blindspots, and follow our advice on how to overcome them.
1 Being the ‘big I am’
If you feel you’re always in the right, take hasty risks or tend to steal the spotlight, it could be that confidence you think is serving you well…actually isn’t. Being a dynamic go-getter is great, but overconfidence has the potential to tip into arrogance which could make you blind to growth opportunities.
Interestingly, the University of Akron and Michigan State University researchers developed the Workplace Arrogance Scale (WARS). Leadership arrogance was measured by four points – whether the boss put their personal agenda ahead of the organisation’s, discredited others' ideas during meetings, rejected constructive feedback and exaggerated their superiority.
If some of these traits sound familiar, don’t worry. Acknowledging them and being willing to change is the first step to overcoming this leadership blindspot. Become conscious of when you may be dominating conversations and actively give your full attention to the person speaking while acknowledging their ideas and concerns. Doing so will help you improve your emotional intelligence so you can learn to manage your own emotions and respond appropriately to the emotions of others.
Make yourself present and willing to reward good work rather than taking credit for it yourself, while offering as many opportunities as possible for coaching and mentoring your team members.
Remember, even as a leader, you don’t know everything, so stay open to new ideas and perspectives and be eager to learn. If you make a mistake or hurt someone's feelings, apologise sincerely. This can go a long way in building trust and positive work relationships.
2 Having sloppy standards
On the flip side of arrogance, there may be a drop in standards, be it about yourself or your team’s performance. Perhaps your self-care rituals or punctuality have fallen short at times? Or have you found yourself reluctant to motivate and take the lead when the work requires it?
A drop in standards can lead to undesirable business outcomes. One study investigated the consequences of leaders that procrastinated in doing tasks and making decisions. The result was lower commitment levels among employees and – concerningly - an increase in deceptive employee behaviour.
From boss burnout to lack of director support, there are many reasons your standards could legitimately slip, so don’t panic. However, it is important that you catch them before they become problematic. Firstly, look after number one. Your wellbeing is paramount, so ensure you’re sleeping well, eating well and maintaining a good work-life balance.
Strive for excellence by defining your standards and communicating them clearly and frequently to your team. Model behaviours you want your team to embody, from punctuality and fairness to optimism.
If organisation is a problem, use tools like calendars, to-do lists and project management software for you and your team to stay on track. Know your targets and KPIs and clearly communicate them to your team and provide them with what they need to reach them. Without doing so, you risk tolerating average performance.
If you are genuinely overwhelmed and cannot cope with workload or demands, then speak out to your superior and communicate your concerns and potential solutions so they can provide you with the necessary support.
3 Being a poor communicator
There are myriad ways poor communication can manifest. It could be that you shy away from difficult conversations or are not as appreciative as you could be at times. Perhaps a lack of time means you’re unable to listen to employee concerns as much as you’d like.
Perceived poor leader communication is endemic. An Interact/Harris Poll revealed 91% of surveyed employees said their bosses lacked communication skills. And this can have serious consequences. Top of the poll’s communication issues were not recognising employee achievements, not giving clear directions, and not having time to meet with employees.
When you want to hone your communication skills as a leader, it all begins with better listening. Listen open-mindedly, reinforcing this with your body language and eye contact. Don’t interrupt, and respond with thoughtful questions. By adopting a mindset of curiosity, you will demonstrate that you value a two-way relationship based on care and concern.
The foundation of healthy team relationships is trust. This will come from being open and honest. Be transparent with your employees and communicate openly about company goals, challenges and successes. If conflict arises, take it seriously and make it clear that you want to talk about it, reassuring employees that everyone gets listened to.
Confusion can be a symptom of poor communication. Be clear and concise in all forms of communication, be it verbal or written. Avoid using complex, flowery jargon and opt for simple language so everyone understands your message. Ensure you hold the relevant number of meetings or get-togethers so that team members are appropriately briefed and motivated.
4 Avoiding responsibility
When faced with a difficult task, what’s your delegation motivation? Do you make the call yourself? Or can you be prone to passing the responsibility onto someone else? If it’s the latter, it could signal responsibility avoidance. Similar to micromanaging, avoiding responsibilities is a boss blindspot that you want to avert.
Of course, when you’re dealing with back-to-back calls, meetings and emails, delegating is part of your job as a leader. Over-delegating, however could negatively impact employee perception. It could make you appear either cowardly or lazy, for instance, and this is something you’d want to prevent from happening.
So where does laissez-faire leadership and shrewd delegation begin and end? One study set out to unpack employee perceptions of delegation. Researchers discovered that when employees saw delegation as hands-off leadership, they tended to passive aggressively resist their manager’s directives. In short, a lack of accountability could leave your team feeling unmotivated and abandoned.
To start showing up more yourself, begin by assessing your workload. Are you over-delegating because you legitimately don’t have enough time to get things done? Or could there be another source of your responsibility avoidance like fear, powerlessness or too much pressure from above? After all, avoidant behaviour can be a form of self-protection.
Then, it’s time to step up and take ownership. This could manifest as making more decisions yourself, becoming more involved in day-to-day company operations and generally holding yourself more accountable. If you make a mistake or fall short of a goal, own up to it and take steps to address it. If you make a commitment to your team, make sure you follow through on it, be it meeting a deadline or delivering on a promise.
When it comes to delegation, ensure you're strategically delegating tasks to employees who have the skills and experience necessary to complete them successfully. By creating an overall culture of accountability, employees will then feel more anchored and connected.
1 Overconfidence and arrogance in leadership can create a toxic workplace environment, unmotivated teams and a poorly functioning organisation. Overcome these traits by acknowledging them and being willing to change. Avoid dominating conversations, actively give your full attention to the person speaking, stay open to new ideas and perspectives and be willing to learn.
2 A drop in standards can lead to negative business outcomes like lower commitment levels among employees, and an increase in deceptive employee behaviour. Raise your standards by looking after your own wellbeing, communicating team expectations, modelling good behaviours and using effective organisational tools.
3 91% of employees said their boss’s communication skills were lacking. Listen actively paying attention to body language, build employee trust by transparently communicating goals and challenges and be clear and concise in all communication forms.
4 Over-delegating and avoiding responsibilities can cause employees to passive aggressively resist managerial directives and leave them feeling unmotivated and abandoned. Identify the course of responsibility avoidance and step up to become more accountable. Become strategic in delegation by only delegating tasks to team members that have the necessary skills and experience.
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