How to Be More Effective as a Leader: 3 Ineffective Leader Behaviors and Alternatives That Get Better Results
In a previous newsletter, I introduced you to John, a first-time people leader promoted as a reward for consistently delivering exceptional projects. Like many leaders under the status quo, John was never directly taught the social skills necessary to effectively lead. He emulates managers who came before him, adopting the command-and-control model we are all familiar with.
The thing is, that style doesn’t work anymore.
Twentieth-century command-and-control leadership was designed for a simpler time when projects weren’t so complex, environments so uncertain, technology so advanced, and direction so flexible. In today’s world, this static leadership style drives performance down, not up. The dynamic nature of work requires leaders who can adapt, be fluid, and lead using relational skills that focus on people, not their output.
In the portrait of an average leader, I touched on the behaviors getting in the way of the performance of John’s team. Today, I want to dive into those behaviors, explain exactly why they’re not effective (despite how common they are), and offer alternatives that drive better results.
In John’s first 360 report, respondents described John interrupting others, telling people what to do, and talking over people. All these are examples of bulldozing, using insensitive force to get people to do what you want.
To understand why forceful behavior is ineffective, think about the literal purpose of a bulldozer. It’s a machine used to clear ground by destroying things in its path—usually trees. The repercussions of bulldozing in a forest are devastating and long-lasting, with even the trees left standing never the same afterward.
It’s exactly the same with figurative bulldozing in the workplace. Forceful leadership that ignores people’s feelings and boundaries makes them feel devalued. It destroys their trust in you and the organization, leading to decreased engagement and high attrition.
Another complaint John’s direct reports shared is his belief that it’s his way or the highway. He gives unsolicited input on in-progress deliverables, gets angry if his instructions aren’t followed to the letter, and gets overly involved in projects. All these are examples of micromanaging.
Leaders are there to provide direction and help. But there is such a thing as too much help. Research shows over-involvement is often unwanted and even counterproductive. Micromanaging creates unnecessary extra work, demotivates employees, and hurts the quality of your team’s deliverables.
In the modern workplace, there is rarely only one right way to do something. Getting angry over someone achieving the same outcome differently than you would shifts the focus from the achieved outcome to your feelings. It destroys creativity and makes your team dependent on your oversight. This results in stagnation—the last thing you want in today’s ever-evolving, rapidly-innovating environment.
Most people don’t believe themselves infallible. After all, we’re all only human. Yet the status quo work culture perpetuates the expectation that leaders are never wrong.
Leaders feel pressured to always be right and have all the answers. And when something inevitably goes wrong, many feel like they have to shift the blame. Some people internalize this even further, thinking they always need to be the hero and save the day (without ever admitting if it’s their own decisions the day needs saving from).
Leaders who act as if they’re infallible often refuse to concede in an argument or debate, even in the face of proof that they’re incorrect. Think of all the supervisors who insist on returning to in-office work, despite all the data proving that remote work increased productivity and employee satisfaction.
The desire to always be right is instinctive to human beings. After all, our brains register being wrong the same way they register physical pain. But trust me, never admitting fault does a lot more harm than good—to both your team and you.
When you try to be perfect and play the hero, you deny both yourself and your team the ability to acknowledge and attend to human needs. It makes people feel dehumanized because if you’re not allowed to show human fallibility, they aren’t either. This implicit standard is a no-win situation. It damages everyone’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, once again resulting in low performance, low engagement, and high attrition.
Human Leader Behaviors
Now that we have a good understanding of common behaviors that don’t work, let’s look at the behavior of an outstanding leader John could learn from to improve his leadership. That’s right, I’m talking about Alan Mulally again.
I’ve mentioned before how Alan treats his colleagues like multi-faceted human beings. Now let’s dive into some specific behaviors he uses to accomplish this, and their results.
The leader’s unique role is to hold themselves and their teams responsible and accountable for the organization’s operating process and expected behaviors.
Rather than bulldoze over his direct reports, Alan ensures his team understands the values and expectations to which they’re being held, and how he will hold them to those standards. He takes the time to coach people to ensure they have everything they need to perform well in their role (and he expects leaders under him to do the same for their teams).
This is effective because it puts everyone on the same page, leading to better engagement and performance.
Trusting Your People
Trusting your team to do their designated work is the opposite of micromanaging. It means providing support without getting in the weeds of everything they’re working on.
Alan refrains from telling people what to do. He’s told me it’s not who he is as a person nor the type of leader he wants to be. He knows he’s not all-knowing, so Alan trusts the people on his team to be experts in their space.
This is effective because it has the opposite effect of micromanaging. Trusting your team encourages autonomy, collaboration, and confidence. They deliver far better work when you build up their ideas and support them rather than dictate to them.
Encouraging Honest Communication
Alan is known for facilitating transparency and communication in the organizations he’s led. He invites people to share their mistakes, criticisms, challenges, conflicts, and questions when they’re having trouble meeting their goals.
When people on his team are struggling to perform, Alan doesn’t punish them for it. He knows that does nothing to solve the problem. Instead, he turns to his team of experts and asks for suggestions, working with them to find solutions.
This response to honest communication is effective because it creates psychological safety. People are quicker to ask for help—and therefore solve the problem—when they know there are no major consequences for admitting they need support. This results in better performance and engagement for your team.
Human Leadership Drives Performance
The effects of leader behavior on employees are interconnected. That is, everything influences everything else. Changing one of these three ineffective behaviors alone won’t fix existing issues with performance, engagement, and retention. All of them lead to the same result, so all of them have to shift to change things.
The good news is, there are many effective techniques you can use to shift your behaviors and drive better outcomes on every front. I’ve put them together for you—along with guidance on building a strategic roadmap for implementing the techniques—in my book, Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance, now available for pre-order and officially out May 31. While you wait for launch, you can get the first three chapters for free right now.
Even more good news: you’re already on the path to becoming a Human Leader by reading this! Be sure to subscribe to this bi-weekly newsletter for more leadership content, and visit my blog for even deeper dives into important Human Leadership content!
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