Leadership is hard, and all leaders screw up. I know, it sounds crazy, but it's true. Even Steve Jobs made some colossal mistakes. Occasionally, we all show that we're human, that we are sometimes winging it, and that we don't have all the answers.
One of my favorite leadership experts, Seth Godin, explains that for leaders, it's uncomfortable to say, "I want to go over there, and I'm going to be responsible for getting us over there, and no one has ever been over there, and I'm not sure how to get over there, but let's go." To make our visions a reality, we have to gain the trust of our followers.
Since we're so dependent on others to move forward, it's important to recognize the behaviors that will disengage and alienate your supporters. Here are the 9 most polarizing, destructive behaviors leaders can exhibit.
Authentic leaders stay true to what they believe. According to Harvard Business School professor and authentic leadership expert Bill George, authentic leaders remain true to their values and mission even in the face of difficulty.
They don't waiver simply because it would be easy to do so. They can be entrusted to show up in the same way, every time, because they operate from a place of total honesty. Employees know when leaders are faking it.
2. False promises.
Leaders must be careful about the carrots they dangle to motivate their employees. If a leader makes a promise, his or her employees have every right to expect follow-through.
So often, leaders share ideas in the heat of a conversation, not realizing that employees are taking every word to heart. Marshall Goldsmith's What Got You Here Won't Get You There explains that when leaders offer suggestions or ideas, employees hear them as commands or promises.
Failing to deliver on a promise -- no matter how large or small -- will violate the trust of employees.
Employees require specificity when it comes to communicating direction. Ambiguity signals two things: 1) lack of clarity regarding direction, and 2) secrecy.
Both of these impressions drive mistrust and skepticism. The clearer you can be regarding your vision and direction, the quicker you will engage others.
4. One-way communication.
In traditional, hierarchical organizations, information flowed from the top down, through a tightly controlled funnel. Employees simply did their jobs, and received the precise information that leadership wanted them to have.
Today, employees have a powerful voice. In healthy cultures, they are empowered to contribute ideas and observations. Employees have valuable feedback and want to be heard.
There are many ways to create a culture of two-way communication, including routinely soliciting anonymous feedback, and addressing it in Town Hall meetings. Your employees are your single most valuable resource for insight into what is happening in your organization.
5. Personal agendas/ego-driven leadership.
Leaders require thick skins to power through setbacks and negativity. They also require strong self-confidence because of the non-believers who question their abilities, and would find pleasure in seeing them fail.
However, leaders have to check their egos at the door, and ensure they subjugate their own personal agendas to the greater good of the organization. This may be one of the most difficult behaviors to eliminate because it requires a lot of self-awareness and honesty about personal motivation.
There is no place in leadership for uncontrolled anger. It conveys fear, disrespect, lack of control, and lack of concern for those who are on the receiving end.
It is true that the stresses that accompany the leadership journey are intensive and potentially debilitating. However, it isn't our employees' responsibility to be our emotional sources of support, which is why it's essential to seek out healthy options and communities of support to release or share our frustrations.
7. Refusing to delegate/empower.
Leadership is a team effort. When employees join your organization and support your vision, they bring experience and skills that can move your strategy forward. It can be difficult to release control, knowing that others may not do things exactly as you would.
However, one person -- or even a team of leaders in a growing organization -- can't complete all tasks. Effective delegation enables you to stay focused on what you do best, and what you love most.
Delegation not only expands your ability to get things done, and creates redundancies within your firm; it also tells your employees that you trust them. Employees want to know they are making impacts and contributions. They want to feel needed and empowered.
8. An attitude of superiority/lack of appreciation.
Employees see their bosses and the C-level community very differently from they way they see themselves. In companies, there is a line of demarcation between leadership and the rest of the company, even if they leaders don't intend to create such a division.
As our organizations grow, it's easy for us to get disconnected from our employees. We have to be intentional about creating appreciation strategies. It takes the entire system to make the company function well, and we must constantly be re-recruiting our talent internally to keep everyone engaged through gratitude and appreciation.
9. Playing favorites.
One of the most demoralizing leadership behaviors is favoritism. While every organization has "linchpins" who are essential in holding the company together, ideally organizations should aim to be "process-centric" rather than "hero-centric."
When companies revolve around a handful of heroes, the remaining employees can begin to feel that they are disposable. To minimize dependency on heroes, companies must invest in the creation of processes so that if key people leave, there is minimal disruption on operations.
Every leader, in the course of their leadership, will invariably display one or more of these behaviors at some point. After all, we are all human, and leadership is hard.
The most important aspect of continuous improvement as a leader is self-awareness. The more self-aware we are, the more successful we will be at recognizing these destructive behaviors and correcting them, so that we may build our best organizations, and live our best lives.