It's easy, when you're removed from the day-to-day tasks, to not see everything as the leader of a company. You miss customer complications, cumbersome processes and tension between co-workers. You can thank confirmation bias for that: We seek out information that backs up our positions. In fact, Judith Glaser, an expert in conversational intelligence, found when she was working with Union Carbide that we get a psychological payoff for confirming our own beliefs.
Leaders that Glaser studied used "telling statements" 85 percent of the time when they were working on negotiations-- meaning only 15 percent of their conversation was focused on questions. Those executives were getting flooded with rewarding hormones for expressing their opinions, but their listeners' reactions were more like pain (not surprising to any of us who've been on the receiving end of a monologue).
Here are a few blind spots to look out for so you can stop rewarding yourself while inadvertently punishing others:
Like parents, no leader will admit to having favorites. But ask employees, and they'll quickly -- and simultaneously -- point to their managers' pets. As a leader, most favoritism feels justifiable: "Well, I like him because he gets his work done so fast" or "She's so personable that her client retention is through the roof."
But would your other employees rise to the occasion if you showered them with the same attention, training and opportunities?
I once had an employee who was my go-to -- I knew he'd get any project done quickly and right, so I automatically routed them his way. In a one-on-one, another employee told me she'd been waiting for me to give her a plum assignment but realized she'd need to ask for it. I was ashamed -- both that I hadn't noticed and that I hadn't been utilizing great skills in my midst, which became apparent after she nailed her project.
2. Bad communication.
While leaders often preach good communication and collaboration to their employees, they don't always practice it themselves. One leader told me, during a coaching conversation, that his employees were there to make his life easier, not the other way around. Was it any surprise that I heard from his teammates that his unclear instructions and expectations drove them crazy?
Rather than think about what could go right when communicating with their teams, leaders should think about what could go wrong.
When you're used to looking at the big picture, not the details, you tend to gloss over particulars. If you tell your accountant, "Just charge the other card," will he know which one you mean? If you ask your marketer to draft an article on your newest offering, will you get a piece meant for consumers or the sales team?
If you don't set expectations, people can't meet them.
3. Conflict Avoidance
Leaders have a reputation for being driven and decisive. That should translate to a willingness to have difficult conversations and take in information from a variety of sources, right?
Not necessarily. Those who avoid conflict can be commonly found in all ranks. And in leaders, it comes in two flavors: people who avoid conflict to keep the team peace or people who avoid conflict to stay entrenched in their feeling of being right.
Leadership is, like most areas of life, a place where being happy is more important than being right (or quiet). I heard a fellow speaker at a conference discuss his tendency to avoid addressing problems, both at work and in his personal life. One thing finally made him change: a mass exodus of employees.
He ran into one of his former high performers at an event and asked her to be honest about why she'd left. "Even when we brought up problems, nothing ever happened," she responded. He realized he didn't address problems because it was awkward, and he thought they'd eventually disappear. Instead, he'd made things more awkward.
Avoiding conflict, giving confusing information and playing favorites can have long-term impacts on the happiness of your team members. Worse, these tendencies can blur your decision-making abilities and hamper your business's growth. Stay on the lookout for the things you're not seeing -- they can make or break your trajectory.