Over the past five years, I have conducted several workplace surveys to get to the bottom of what mistakes managers make more frequently than others.
The data reveals some obvious patterns that continue to exist even as we have shifted to remote work. My findings are broken down by the five most common themes -- the five biggest mistakes bosses make that disengage their employees.
This should come as no surprise. Managers who dominate people, decisions, and processes and lead by fear make this the No.1 mistake. Micromanaging ultimately derails your team's motivation and creativity.
Since Covid-19, the lines between work and personal life no longer exist when teams work remotely. The 9-to-5 schedule has become extinct, and flexibility to work at a time that's best for your employees should be the norm.
The issue most managers run into with asynchronous work is keeping up with their teams' varying schedules while still hitting their productivity targets. Vetri Vellore, CEO of technology startup Ally.io, says that macro-managing, not micromanaging, is the key to combating this.
"Keep the main goals at the heart of each employee's contributions, instead of focusing on a task-oriented laundry list of little things to do," shares Vellore. "As long as those key results are met, I don't mind when it's completed."
2. Managing through power or ego
Hubris is the cause of much conflict and grief. As one survey respondent succinctly put it:
"Intellectual arrogance is like a termite to some leaders and networks."
When managers put themselves on a pedestal as the source for all the answers and best ideas, and use it to wield power or control over their people, it destroys morale.
We all have some level of selfishness residing within us, but too much focus on our own pride and ego in a team atmosphere influences our decisions, usually to a bad ending.
"If we're focused inwardly on our pride ... we become preoccupied with what we want and the things we think we need to protect us or to advance our personal agendas," writes Walt Rakowich, author of Transfluence: How to Lead With Transformative Influence in Today's Climates of Change.
3. Failing to listen
Listening has become a lost art. The lack of active and respectful listening, and two-way communication -- sending without receiving -- is a clear shortcoming I find in many managers.
Perhaps it's because they're running in high gear trying to meet deadlines and hit their marks, and simply don't take the time to slow down and truly listen to what's going on around them.
This can be risky, because it could mean missing out on vital cues that impact performance, and even their own effectiveness and career growth.
Managers who listen to and act on feedback show employees that they care about them. This sets the tone that if workers come to their managers with issues or concerns, they'll be heard, taken seriously, and addressed appropriately.
"We have adopted a variety of feedback tools, including employee surveys, and I frequently ask the team to submit questions that I answer in a weekly Q&A email to the company," explains Jason VandeBoom, CEO of ActiveCampaign. "It's important to communicate that you are listening and willing to answer tough questions honestly and transparently."
4. Disregarding employees
One mistake that rose to the top points to the overarching theme of managers dismissing the value of their people. They either don't care, don't know how to care, or stopped caring. In essence, it's the leader who thinks anyone is replaceable and sees employees as "cogs on a wheel" rather than worthy colleagues to be treated like business partners in producing excellence.
What do employees want in order to truly feel valued by their bosses? Two things managers can do that stood out for me are:
- Invest in employees with development and mentoring opportunities.
- Identify each person's unique skills and strengths, and use them where they are best suited for business outcomes.
5. Lack of trust
Since customer-facing and frontline employees are the ones most intimately acquainted with how things work in the trenches, it behooves managers to gain their trust by coming to them first for input, buy-in, advice, and ideas for strategy. This fosters a culture of trust, where followers feel safe enough to question, contribute ideas, and share concerns that have value and can help resolve problems.
Finally, let's take into account that managers are people too and, therefore, should not be demonized. The majority have good intentions and should be treated with respect and empowered with the tools and development they need to succeed.