Do your employees seem timid to approach you with issues? Do you ever feel like no one will give you a straight answer? Have you had the sneaking suspicion that maybe your subordinates are afraid of you? If so, you may have unintentionally employed a leadership strategy that relies on fear.
Multiple studies have shown that a sense of trust and warmth is what fosters the most successful work environments. Nevertheless, fear-based corporate cultures are increasingly common. No one starts out trying to be a bad boss, but sometimes insecurity, lack of experience, or just the pressures of the job can lead even the most well-intentioned of managers to inadvertently create a fear-based culture instead of an environment of cooperation.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to help lead without fear:
DO communicate your goals to the team.
Are you totally clear on what your goals should be? Are your employees are on the same page? Most people innately desire to unite toward a common goal and achieve success as a team. But if you’re not telling your team members what the mission is, they won’t be motivated to innovate and give their best. Trying to land a new client or build a certain sector of the business? Take the time to frequently and thoroughly communicate your big picture plans, and your subordinates will be more likely to jump on the band wagon with their efforts and enthusiasm.
DON’T Hoard Information.
Either in an attempt to maintain control or out of sheer oversight, many managers frequently withhold important information that their employees need to do their jobs effectively.
Perhaps you were sitting in the board meeting or had facetime with the new client, but you didn’t share what you know with your employees. When this happens, they’re doomed to be out of the loop. Your subordinates aren’t mind readers. They can’t put together the necessary nuances to get the job done well if you don’t share your knowledge. Even worse, holding back information can prevent your team from meeting deadlines and productivity goals if they don’t have the necessary details to complete basic tasks. That reflects poorly on them and on you.
DO Ask for Feedback,
and not just on an HR-mandated basis.
You know you’re not perfect, but do your employees feel comfortable admitting it? Taking the time regularly (and of your own volition) to ask how you can improve as a manager tells your employees that you’re in touch with them—that you understand what it’s like to have a boss.
Not only will you learn what kind of leadership works for your team, but you’ll also earn understanding and forgiveness for the next time you’re just having a bad day.
DON’T Confide in Employees About Other Team Members.
This one may seem obvious, but a surprising number of managers are guilty of workplace gossip. You may think sharing your opinions about other employees creates an air of trust between you and your confidant—but in reality, it just makes them wonder “What is my boss saying to others about ME?”
If you’re struggling with a team member or just need to vent, seek out a fellow manager or a friend outside the office. Your subordinates are never an appropriate sounding board.
DO Give Your Employees Ample Opportunity to Solve Problems.
If you’re questioning how something was handled by a typically competent employee, give him or her a heads up before initiating a confrontation. Avoid sending cryptic meeting summons without at least some notion of the issue at hand. These confrontations lead to defensive, knee-jerk reactions from your team members, when what you really want to foster is a solution-oriented approach.
Often times a simple email about the issue—”Hey, this has come to my attention. Do you know anything about it?” will give your employee the space and confidence to look into the concern, admit any responsibility, and prepare an appropriate solution.
DON’T Joke About Job Security.
Even if the intention is harmless, jokes like, “I had to fire the last person who did that!” put everyone on edge. Just like the rule of thumb to “never use the D-word” (divorce) in a marriage, even light-hearted references to termination create a sense among employees that they “better do this or else,” instead of a spirit of teamwork and cooperation. Everyone knows you’re the boss—you don’t have to remind them by throwing your weight around.
The truth is, most managers have genuinely good intentions. They want their team to feel supported, have high job satisfaction, and create the results to match. If you think you’ve developed a few bad management habits, don’t beat yourself up. The mere fact that you’re reading this means you’re likely not among the worst of offenders (unless perhaps it was sent to you in an anonymous email!) Take stock of your own management style and keep on asking for feedback, and you’ll quickly create the positive, encouraging corporate culture that you and your team both desire.