Two years ago on LinkedIn, I conducted an informal leadership survey to get to the bottom of how employees feel about their managers. I asked them a simple question: What is the one mistake your manager makes more frequently than others?"
Over 300 responses later, I was able to break down the data into five themes, which I highlight below. In essence, these are the five biggest mistakes managers make to disengage, disempower, and generally suck the life out of their people.
Not surprisingly, this employee sentiment rose to the top as the No. 1 mistake. I heard a few common things from people working under micromanagers, including there being the absence of:
- The expression of creativity or free flow of ideas
- Open and transparent group discussion or input into a decision
- Team motivation
Granted, micromanagers are not evil people; they're human like all of us and hard-working. What they lack is the conscious day-to-day understanding of what it takes to motivate people intrinsically. They live in another paradigm altogether.
The good news with all paradigms is that you can shift!
The No. 2 mistake was cause for much dissatisfaction -- a ginormous ego. Quite a few respondents blamed their "know-it-all" managers -- who think they have the best ideas, take all the credit, and hoard information to wield power -- for destroying morale and sending their colleagues packing.
A lack of humility was clearly present in micromanagers, especially in those being reported as "not able to own being wrong" and "not handling being wrong well."
3. Failure to listen
One respondent put it this way:
"It is not the inability to listen but the inability to 'hear' what their team [members] are saying to them."
The lack of active and respectful listening and two-way communication -- sending without receiving -- is a clear shortcoming for many managers. When managers receive feedback, employees cited these common negative responses:
- Getting defensive or deflecting responsibility (blaming others) when receiving constructive feedback
- Not asking questions or listening when receiving feedback (a sort of emotional shutdown stemming from an ego position)
- Reacting to feedback by reverting to expertise and knowledge -- giving answers to every question and issue, instead of actively listening and having the team (along with the manager) problem solve
4. Not caring
This mistake points to the overarching theme of managers dismissing the value of their people. This requires the leadership mindset of caring and meeting the needs of followers, which many people in positions of leadership don't possess. In this case, managers were seen as not caring, not knowing how to care, or having stopped caring. Respondents expressed a desire for their managers to properly value them by:
- Investing in their development and providing mentoring opportunities
- Identifying their strengths and using them where they are best suited for business outcomes
5. Not investing in personal or leadership development
A clear collective sentiment: Managers have entitlement issues about growing and developing themselves. Many respondents expressed disdain over managers unfit to lead, and blamed the hiring process and senior leaders for placing them in those positions.
Some examples of behaviors that cry out for executive-level leadership development:
- Low self-awareness: not knowing oneself or others
- Communication issues: lacking in two-way feedback, unable to be open and vulnerable
- Ego issues: having all the answers and not soliciting input
I'm of the opinion, as I stated earlier, that managers are human and must be forgiven if they show interest in their own development. While the mistakes mentioned above are common blind spots, lets be real: Most managers are not out to deliberately destroy the lives of their followers. As with their most valued employees, they also must be empowered and developed with the soft skills necessary to reverse fear and develop trust, and be set up to succeed in a relationship economy.