To help leaders avoid these pitfalls, 16 Forbes Coaches Council members have identified harmful behaviors they’ve observed in the leaders they work with. They have shared some practical ideas to help these leaders recognize and address these behaviors.
By ending these harmful practices, leaders can significantly improve their team’s spirit and drive positive outcomes.
One leader sent emails at all hours of the day and night. This helped him manage his own anxiety and urgency to act, but undermined organizational messages and efforts related to supporting work-life balance, self-care and avoiding burnout. His email both included and negated a caveat below his signature, assuring recipients that the timing was his preference and not an expectation of them. An easy fix is to schedule the email.
In meetings, the leader would strongly state their point of view first and then ask others for their perspective. This created an echo chamber of similar perspectives and diluted different points of view. Through coaching, the leader learned to first ask others for their perspectives and points of view, probe those, and then come to a thoughtful conclusion.
One leader was a big proponent of radical transparency—but only when giving feedback, as it turned out. Receiving the kind of blunt feedback he liked to give turned out to be much harder than he thought. We solved it by tackling it from two directions: developing his self-awareness and openness to feedback as well as tempering the tone of the feedback given in the organization.
One leader I coached had the great intention of being very accessible to her team, but her “always available” approach had the unintended consequence of making her team feel as if they needed to respond to her immediately at all hours as well. She fixed the unintended “always-on” atmosphere she had created by setting explicit norms for when and how to communicate and modeling taking time away.
The leader had deemed himself the “efficiency police” and was overly critical and assertive about anything that didn’t rise up to his standard. He was ruining relationships. He slowly changed his behavior when he started answering the question, “How would I respond right now if I put the relationship before my need to be right?”
Most leaders I coach find it hard to stop imparting their wisdom, fighting fires and solving other people’s problems. Many, if not all, believe they are listening, delegating and letting their colleagues take the lead; however, bad habits are hard to break. I ask the leaders I coach to ask individuals in their teams “What can I do less of?” and then listen. Try it at home first.
The leader would work during vacation, but they would talk to their team about the importance of disconnecting while they are on vacation. The leader failed to realize that more is caught than taught. The message they were giving was, “If you want to be the leader, you have to work during your time off.” To fix this, we worked through how to delegate responsibilities with trust, confidence and training.
Time and time again, I’ve seen leaders not walking the talk. They keep preaching what needs to be done, but they themselves are not doing it. Coaching made them aware of their desire to fix something versus the action that needed to be taken to actually fix something.
One leader I coach is guilty of wanting to add too much value—they always have something to add, can never complete the conversation and always have to offer a solution. The impact is disengagement from the team, reduced motivation and fatigue. How are they changing? We are practicing listening and allowing.
One leader I coached set the example that each of their product owners was the “CEO” of their team. This created a hierarchy, so team members stopped sharing ideas and objections. I coached this leader to empower others to share ideas and to foster this mentality with the product owners. As an executive coach, I believe it’s crucial to create a diversity of voices—whether it’s a team or an organization.
Leadership is an important skill, but it can be difficult to learn. One leader I coached recently had a bad habit of setting a poor example for their team by not communicating clearly and concisely. He was using words that not everyone could understand and was making a lot of assumptions. The key is to help leaders understand that clear communication is key to good relationships.
Instead of saying, “No, that won’t work,” a leader can say, “Let’s explore other options.” The overuse of these negative qualifiers secretly says to everyone, “I’m right; you’re wrong.” To progress on this, it is helpful to be fully aware of one’s own communication style and make a conscious effort to change it. – Cristian Hofmann, Empowering Executives | SUPERGROUP LTD
The leader unknowingly favored an employee due to shared personal experiences, causing friction in the team. Realizing the error, he apologized and committed to rectifying the situation through open communication with the team. He addressed it with an open and honest conversation with his team. He apologized for his unfair behavior and vowed to rectify the situation.
A leader was making “being happy” the goal for her team. The problem is that happiness is dependent on factors outside of her team’s control. I coached her to instead prioritize “clarity of expectations.” Leaders underestimate the benefit of their teams knowing that they’re doing work that actually matters (versus work they think matters) and having the confidence to course-correct when there’s a detour.
A CEO with a large senior team intervened regularly in discussions to push a decision. Their feedback was that it was autocratic and unhelpful, and his view was that discussions were repetitive and wasted time. Both were right. They turned meetings around by preparing ahead, building on what was said before and upskilling team members to play a more active role in meeting facilitation.
My coachee always asked their team for ideas, which is good, but a leader should deliver some solutions as well. Your team is looking to you for guidance, and need you to be the example, showing that you have a vision and know how to drive your company. You hire people who have knowledge you don’t have—that’s normal; but you should always at least understand how to frame their tasks.