You don't need a Freddie Krueger mask or a vampire costume to spread fear among the employees you lead.
In fact, leaders often communicate in ways that scare the daylights out of their people.
The result? Employees become like the walking dead, going through the motions instead of doing their best work.
Here are 7 ways leaders scare employees--and how to avoid these frightening behaviors:
1. Expect people to read your mind. Unless you clearly express your expectations, you can't presume that team members will know what you mean. Successful leaders learn that there's no such thing as being too explicit. (Scary leaders get annoyed when their reports don't read their nonverbal signals.)
2. Contradict yourself without explaining why you shifted your viewpoint. One day you say, "We need a big blue box." The next day, your team brings the box and you say, "What the heck were you thinking? Only a tiny red ball will do!" This sends chills down team members' spines. If you realize that your initial direction doesn't work (now that you see it fleshed out), explain why.
3. Always focus on what's wrong. Sure, there are lots of challenges running your business, and just when you've overcome one big obstacle, another looms up. But always emphasizing the negative makes your people feel like they're never accomplishing anything. That leads us to frightening behavior #3.
4. Never celebrate progress. Leaders are paid to look around the corner, anticipating what's ahead. But that means many leaders have trouble pausing long enough to celebrating accomplishments. The best way to do so? Allocate time at every major meeting to reporting on progress and celebrating success.
5. Forget to give credit where it's due. The worst leaders take all the credit; they're like the scary clowns of organizations. Most leaders make a smaller mistake that still affects morale: They don't take time to recognize the achievements of individuals and teams. You don't need a formal recognition program to do so. When you communicate, just make it a priority to catch people doing great things.
6. Disappear, especially when the going gets tough. Your company may be facing a crisis. Or you need to work on a big initiative that's still in early stages. In either case, you hunker down in a conference room somewhere (possibly offsite) to get the job done. But back at the office, your people are nervous. Where did you go? Did something horrible happen? Are you planning what people fear most--a major layoff?
No matter what's going on, leaders have an unceasing obligation to be visible. That doesn't mean you have to tell employees everything. Just show up on a regular basis to say, "Keep doing what you're doing. I'll tell you more when I can."
7. Never express emotion. Yes, there are still some leaders today who yell and pound their fists on the table. But, luckily, they're few and far between. A bigger problem is leaders who never share any feelings because they think that's appropriate. But that actually makes employees nervous, not comfortable. You may not be the most emotive guy or gal in the world, but share a little bit--a bit of joy, of anxiety, of passion and, especially of pride. It will go a long way to motivate your team members.
Boo! Hope this helps you avoid becoming that scarier-than-the-werewolf leader.