Is Your Leadership M.O. Setting You Up for a Career D.O.A.?

How you work with others may present a barrier to your next promotion.

By Pam Hager, Vice President, Instructional Consulting, Psychological Associates

Dan never felt more on top of his game. His latest project was delivered ahead of schedule, and early client feedback indicated big revenue numbers for the coming year. So when his boss e-mailed him to meet the following week, he was expecting kudos for his success.

Nothing prepared Dan for his boss’s words: “Dan, you get great results, and this recent project is a perfect example. But this time, it’s not enough. This year has to be different. How you get results has to change. Turnover in your department is really high. It’s no secret that people get burned out pretty quickly working for you.”

Dan was dumbfounded. You see, Dan had an intimidating, take-no-prisoners leadership style. He believed in those slogans, “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday,” and “If you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can.”

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Success

More and more companies are realizing that while certain leadership tactics may deliver short-term, high-performance results, it may well be at the expense of building the long-term engagement and commitment of employees. So while Dan defended his tactics by pointing to his bottom-line results, his boss was telling him that his way of working with his people was costing his company the enthusiasm, high morale, and trust that are needed for building an engaged, dedicated workforce—the kind that in the long term lead an organization to greater financial success.

In an October 2012 Harvard Business Review blog, author Eric Sinoway called employees like Dan vampires—“employees (who) perform well but in a manner that is at cross-purposes with desired organizational culture.”

How Do You Lead?

Even if you make or surpass your numbers, have you taken a look at your leadership M.O.? You may unwittingly be undermining your chances for advancement. How you work with others may present a barrier to your next promotion.

While everyone appreciates a leader who can cut through red tape and get things done, does your way of getting a performance from your people mean:

  • Always using a command-and-control style, instead of collaborating or showing trust?
  • To get an extra effort, you coerce, using fear and intimidation?
  • You feel employees must be whipped into shape to provide a superior performance?
  •  You micro-manage to make sure everything is done right?
  • You accept no excuses?

Unintended Consequences of Your Style

There’s no doubt these methods can work for the short term. In fact, you may feel you should be rewarded for accomplishing your goals, no matter what your style is with people. But these days the leaders of your company may see your behavior as a detriment to long-range success because:

  • You wear out your direct reports, who either tune out or leave your company.
  • Your style creates immense tensions in your work environment that discourage employees from bringing you new ideas or valuable feedback; people just want to stay out of your line of fire.
  • Your direct reports are reluctant to bring you bad news, so issues and concerns you and your company should address stay buried until they explode.

All of these unintended consequences may work against you without your realizing it. The same style that garners praise for your financial results may cause influential colleagues to form negative opinions about you from stories they hear. Companies are recognizing that leadership within a democratic society has to be based on engaging employees and gaining their commitment and trust. Do you earn your team’s respect as a leader by generating enthusiasm and commitment to succeed? Or are employees just a means to an end to achieve your goals?

It’s Not Too Late to Change

Your leadership behavior can be changed if you are willing to analyze it to see if your success is achieved at the expense of your employees. You can break old habits and ways of dealing with others by adopting these overall principles:

  • Maintain your business objectives, but achieve them by “profits through people,” not in spite of them. Realize that your employees are ultimately the key to your success as a leader.
  • Put down the judgmental gavel (“I don’t pay you to think”) in favor of listening and learning; you aren’t in this alone.
  • Less hands on—more eyes and ears on. Developing trust can be an upward spiral. The more you entrust people with responsibilities, the more they will want to come through and be willing to work hard for you. Belief in people’s abilities is a strong motivator.
  • Facilitate rather than dictate. Some leaders never tap into the collective resourcefulness and intelligence of their team. Empower people to contribute more by helping them to succeed.

How Will You Know It’s the Right Way?

Both styles of leadership may produce results in the short run. To gain maximum business results over time, though, look for these dividends that you will enjoy when you adopt your new leadership style:

  • Your people take initiative and develop solid solutions on their own.
  • Morale improves.
  • Fewer mistakes are made, and employees are more willing to report and deal with issues.
  • You have less on your plate—you are delegating and trusting rather than hovering and taking over every task.
  • The talent your company invests in sticks around, and you attract others to your area of the company.
  • Your bottom line is better because of less waste, loss, errors, or the expense of recruitment.

Remember, this is doable because you are not being asked to change your life or personality—just how you approach people at work. Both you and Dan can start tomorrow. What Dan will happily learn is that rather than having to defend a style that moves further out of synch with his company, his newly adopted style will identify him as an effective and productive leader.

Pam Hager is vice president of Instructional Consulting at Psychological Associates. Prior to joining Psychological Associates, Hager directed her own training and development firm, Imaginative Concepts, for 10 years. She also has been a staff member at EDS (McDonnell Douglas Systems Integration Company); IDS Financial Services; and College of the Sequoias, Visalia, CA. She has substantial experience in facilitation, performance consulting, and courseware design, and development. For Psychological Associates, she teaches Leadership Through People Skills, Coaching Skills, DimensionalCollaborAction, DimensionalPerformance Management, DimensionalSelling, Negotiating Skills, and Team Building to a broad range of corporations, government agencies, and educational institutions throughout the United States. She holds an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Missouri.

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