Poor leadership is a death by a thousand cuts. If you’re having a difficult time instilling a desire to perform in your crew it’s probably not just one thing you’re doing wrong – it’s likely a collection of slip-ups that accrue penalties over time.
This week we’re going to jump right into a variety of actions you may or may not be taking that are diminishing your leadership role in your firm. That diminished role can be costing you productivity, time, and even employees who think their efforts might best be spent helping to build a competing firm.
You don’t encourage your employees to be human at work
Obviously you can’t spend an hour of your workday listening to every employee grouch about how their love-life is going. However, there’s nothing wrong with giving a minute or two to asking about how they’re feeling since their child went off to their first day of school or how their bowling team did at the semi-finals.
Your employees’ job is going to take up a tremendous amount of their waking lives. They’re going to be much happier, and therefore productive, at a job where they feel recognised as people rather than just as impersonal gears in a machine.
Also, by getting to know what makes your employees tick on an individual basis will you’ll have an insight into what they want from their careers.
You don’t apologise/admit when you don’t know something
If you never apologise for your mistakes you’re going to send the message to your employees that mistakes are highly frowned upon in your firm, and might even incur punishment. Employees that are terrified of making mistakes are employees that lose productive hours trying to cover up errors or infighting in order to place the blame.
Along the same lines, you’re going to have trouble if you don’t ever admit it when you come up against something you don’t have experience with. The words, “I don’t know,” or “This is a new one on me” can actually be quite powerful tools for you.
First, it shows that you’re in the trenches, battling alongside your employees instead of sitting back. Second, someone in your team might actually have experience with the particular problem giving them a chance to shine and you the chance to delegate and/or learn something new.
There’s an added danger in not admitting when you’re wrong – you might spend far too much of the firm’s budget and time trying to make a doomed project right. Instead of pulling the plug on an experiment early enough to keep it from really draining your firm, you have your people keep plugging away at it because you can’t admit that you made a mistake. This can cost you hundreds of hours of productivity plus it can make your team members lose faith in your judgement.
You place your employees’ focus on budget rather than on milestones
Obviously you can’t have a section within your firm going wildly over budget. However, if you make budgets your employees’ primary focus then they’re going to be spending more time fretting and less time contributing to the milestones that will, over time, combine to help you achieve your firm’s biggest goals.
Let your employees’ primary focus be their work (their contributions to the big goals). Budgets can be tweaked and brought to attention with small reminders if absolutely necessary.
You leap before you look
There’s a feeling of stress in leadership related to time – every second longer you take to make a decision the more it feels like it’s costing your firm the chance to grow, make money, or nab a potentially stellar employee.
However, not taking a second, hour, or day longer to take a good deep dig into your information can cost you more. For example, leaping at that potential star employee before another firm snags him or her might make perfect sense – but then you find out that that while they have solid on-paper skills they demoralise your entire office with their negativity.
You could have avoided this negative impact on your firm’s productivity by taking an extra day or two to have a more thorough conversation with the candidate’s past employers, saving yourself the costs of firing him or her and going through the hiring process again.
You don’t celebrate victories
If you don’t celebrate when your team reaches a milestone or when an individual goes above and beyond two things happen. First, you miss the chance to boost everyone’s morale. Second, milestones become diminished in importance – if passing a milestone isn’t acknowledged then it can’t really be all that important to your firm, and therefore it’s not worth putting extra effort into it.
You try to teach what you don’t know
Not an expert on SMSF auditing? Then why would you try to teach it to someone? You’re potentially teaching someone some deadly mistakes (which will come back to haunt your client), and you’re making yourself look foolish.
You don’t take advice
Hopefully your hiring practices have allowed you to assemble a team of people that strengthen your weak points. If you have, why wouldn’t you heed their advice on their area of expertise?
Some people get it into their heads that being a leader means standing alone and above their employees. You are the one that in the end has to make the big decisions, absolutely, but by no means do you have to do so in a vacuum.
Added bonus – taking someone’s advice gives them an emotional investment in the issue at hand, inspiring them to work harder to help you get through that particular situation.
You don’t consider before you criticize someone
Nobody likes a finger wag aimed in their direction. But your employees do understand that sometimes mistakes have to be addressed.
However, there are most definitely limits. If the critiques and criticisms are constant then your employee is going to grow into a state of fear where they think that their every move is going to earn them a talking-to. There goes their productivity. So make sure that the criticism is actually a big enough issue to warrant a discussion with you, the big boss.
On the flip-side, you can be much freer with praise. Everybody likes a pat on the back from their leader.
You don’t let your employees change your workflows
New employees can bring in new ways of tackling problems. If you completely ignore their ideas about how to get particular types of files done in favour of your “tried and true” methods you’re passing up an opportunity to speed up and boost the quality of your workflows.
This of course does not mean you just alter your documented workflows at every whim of an employee. What it means is that you’re open to hearing out new ideas and floating them with the other employees connected with that workflow to see if it’s an improvement.
You hire purely for a skill-set
Someone’s resume might check all the right boxes when it comes to the skill-set you’re looking to hire on, but remember, you’re not just hiring the skill-set, you’re also hiring the person that is carrying those skills.
So do pay attention to the candidate’s extra-curriculars. See if they spend any time in activities that indicate they’re a team-player (for example, charity work) and aren’t adverse to risk (an adrenaline-based sport or activity).
You don’t base bonuses or rewards on creativity
You shouldn’t really be basing rewards on the most basic of an employee’s tasks. First of all, that’s what their salary is for. Second, if you’re rewarding them for doing the basic stuff it kind of sends the message that you didn’t actually expect them to get it done. So in fact that bonus, while welcome, is actually kind of a bummer.
On the other hand, if you reward an employee who tweaked a workflow, or went out of their way to provide outstanding customer service, then all of your team is going to start looking for ways to go above and beyond their status quo.
You don’t fire negative employees fast enough
Negative employees can be a huge drain on your firm. They impact your other employees’ morale, reducing productivity. And their negativity can bleed through to your client service via other employees even if the trouble employee doesn’t have direct client contact.
Should you try to help get lacking employees up to speed with the rest of your team? Of course. But a leader needs to recognise the difference between employees who need some help versus those that are going to hit the brakes on their firm’s growth.
You don’t practice what you preach
We’ve talked about this one in past emails – it’s no good telling your employees that your firm stands for excellent customer service when you yourself go around being snarky about clients behind their backs.
The leader of a firm sets the tone for the firm. Be what you want your firm to be.
You’re a mentor in name only
Being a mentor to your less-experienced employees isn’t just a matter of telling them when they’ve done something wrong. Instead, you need to really dig into how they can improve their performance, and give them updates on their progress on a weekly basis.
By doing so, you’re not just benefiting the employee – you’re building your ideal team member and you’re creating a loyal employee. You’re also going to have a much better feeling for when a person is ready for a promotion as opposed to giving them a bump up only to find out they’re not yet prepared for the added responsibilities.
You play everything close to the vest
Did you get a flash of inspiration? Get it out to your team members where they can help you chew it over.
This goes back to trying to create the illusion that you’re always right – you’re not, everybody knows it, so don’t try pulling the wool over your team’s eyes.
Instead, get the idea out there. Sure, it might be a terrible idea. But if that’s true then a team member can show you why and you won’t waste any more time trying to massage it into a workable shape when you could be working on ideas with far more potential.
Additionally, once it’s out there, the idea will have multiple minds working on it at once. The idea can enjoy exponential growth if you share it with your team.