The thing about bad leadership behaviors is they’re often hard to recognize. Here are some tips to improve.
Editor’s note: This article is among our most popular, so we’ve updated it recently to keep things fresh.
Think about the best manager you’ve ever had; Now think about the worst. What were the biggest differences between those two individuals? It’s almost certain that they had disparate leadership styles. It’s often said that employees “don’t leave a job, they leave a manager.”
But the thing about bad leadership behaviors is they’re sometimes hard to recognize. Often the intention and the impact of those behaviors are not the same. Sometimes leaders alienate their employees without even knowing what they’re doing wrong. Such behaviors could be driving employees crazy and even leading to attrition within the team.
That’s why we’re going to look at some leadership behaviors that leave room for improvement — and ideas for how to turn them around.
Bad leadership behavior 1: You fail to trust your team
Being promoted to a leadership position will naturally change a person’s job. But too many leaders get swept up in the newfound power of the position. They end up losing sight of the hard work and qualities that got them there in the first place, and not fully appreciating these values in their employees.
The best leaders are able to trust their employees, lean on them when necessary, and respect their opinions. Employees who feel their voice is heard while on the job are nearly five times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. This also highlights the importance of communication between the leader and the team.
But as Simon Sinek points out in this TEDTalk, “the problem with concepts of trust and cooperation is that they are feelings, they’re not instructions. I can’t simply say to you ‘trust me’ and you will. I can’t simply instruct two people to cooperate and they will. That’s not how it works. It’s a feeling. So where does that feeling come from?”
Bad leadership behavior 2: You’re overly focused on the bottom line
One thing decides the success or failure of a business, and that’s the financial bottom line. However, when leaders measure success solely on quantifiable results, they risk missing out on a lot of other things that can boost a business.
Recent research shows that 93% of consumers say that companies have a responsibility to look beyond profit and exert a positive impact on society. In Marc Benioff’s book Behind the Cloud, he wrote about the number-one characteristic to look for in a new hire: “What we value most is a desire to change the world via technology and an interest in giving back to the community.” Since Salesforce was founded, we’ve operated with a 1-1-1 model which means we give 1% of our time, product, and financial resources back to our community.
Focusing on initiatives based around social impact may not at first seem to have much measurable benefits, but it is something that both customers and employees are looking for. Give employees opportunities to volunteer or give back to their communities, and regularly celebrate non-quantifiable successes such as positive interactions with customers. This will ultimately earn more customers, increase employee retention rates, strengthen your brand, and also increase your team’s loyalty to you as a leader.
Bad leadership behavior 3: You don’t prioritize employee engagement
Another point that Simon Sinek makes is about the value of culture. He says “If you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do these remarkable things. And more importantly, others have that capacity too.”
Culture and employee engagement is a hugely important focus for any good leader. Among the many benefits of engaged employees:
- Happier employees are more likely to stay with the company, which means better retention rates, and thus fewer expenses on hiring and training new employees
- Employees who like their jobs are more likely to refer other top hires
- Employees who are more engaged are more likely to be enthusiastic about their jobs and thus produce better results
To avoid low engagement rates, regularly track engagement with one-on-one conversations and employee surveys. Follow up with those who feel disengaged. Also, be sure to provide opportunities for all team members to grow and expand their positions; employees who say their company provides equal opportunities are nearly four times more likely to say they are proud to work for their company.
Bad leadership behavior 4: You lack flexibility
As a leader, processes and policies are a huge part of your strategy. All of these things help to set and achieve business goals. However, if there is one thing that’s certain when it comes to business forecasting, it’s that nothing is certain.
That’s why the best leaders are flexible. They’re not afraid to cut losses and change direction when something isn’t working. Unexpected problems and challenges arise on a near-daily basis. A good leader tries to anticipate them, but is still ready to tackle unexpected problems head-on. Sometimes the best thing for a project is when leaders shift directions creatively, even if it deviates from their original concept.
Find ways to encourage flexibility among your employees, and show them that you’re open to new directions when necessary. It’s also a best practice to be flexible with your employees’ schedules. Just as the unexpected arises in business, the same goes for our personal lives. Be understanding when employees need a little extra time off or a late start due to unforeseen personal challenges. In exchange for your flexible attitude, employees will reward you with their loyalty.
Bad leadership behavior 5: You rely on outdated technology
Your team members can do their best work when they’re empowered with the latest and greatest technology. You might be doing everything right personally as a leader, but outdated tech might restrict what your team can accomplish.
New tech solutions can aid collaboration with your team, as well as between departments. Technology can help you track employee engagement and results, and ultimately boost productivity.
Positive leadership behaviors to practice
Self-reflection isn’t always comfortable, but it is always worthwhile. If you’re a manager, take some time to take stock of your own leadership behaviors. Try to keep these tips in mind:
- Trust your team
- Care about your business’ impact on your community
- Prioritize culture and employee engagement
- Stay flexible
- Embrace change
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If you need a little extra encouragement, bear in mind this quote from Navy Captain David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around; “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”
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