Leadership Strategy

Are You Sabotaging Your Own Team? Look Out for These 5 Signs.

Leading a startup for the first time is a little like playing flashlight tag: You may be playing to win, but most of the moves you make are inevitably shots in the dark.
Are You Sabotaging Your Own Team? Look Out for These 5 Signs.
Image credit: Chris Whitehead | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Little Passports
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As startup founders, we all have dreams of hotshot teams, big thinkers and self-starters who "take initiative" without us having to ask. But, I'll be the first to admit that founders can sometimes stand in the way of their teams. Our companies are our babies, after all, and it takes heaps of trust for us to hand the reins to someone else.

Related: Why This CEO Fired Himself

You might have a nagging voice in your ear suggesting that you are bottlenecking your own team's success. If so, you aren't alone. Management mistakes at the early stage are inevitable (no one's perfect!), but they can be rectified with reflection. Here are five common management blunders, along with tips for how to work through roadblocks.

1. You assign tasks instead of objectives.

Studies far and wide have found that happiness in the workplace is tied to autonomy. Startup founders seem to get this in terms of offering flexible work schedules and project ownership, but where do you stand when it comes to assigning work? Do you divvy up who's handling what at team meetings? Or, are you trusting enough to communicate goals and coach from the sidelines as your team members invent the playbook?

Teaching strategic thinking to employees, especially at the entry level, can be hard work, but it's worth the pay-off as more and more goals are met across the company without you doing the heavy lifting. One of my tricks for teaching strategic thinking is asking the right questions. What variables do you think we should change in our next marketing campaign to entice a higher click-through rate? What data do we have that could guide your reasoning? Perhaps the simplest version of this is just asking "What do you think?" before offering your own point of view.

By guiding team members with the right questions, you can teach critical thinking and strategy. Once you're certain an employee is wearing her strategy hat, do her a favor and step back.

Related: Your Narcissism Is Killing Your Employees' Productivity. How to Avoid the Pitfalls.

2. You're quick to pick up the slack when others aren't getting the job done.

If a task isn't completed to your satisfaction, do you commit the time to giving feedback or correct the mistakes yourself? While giving constructive feedback can feel awkward until you get the hang of it, your employees want it: A survey conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman found that 72 of respondents believed their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback. The survey, which appeared in Harvard Business Review, also covered how to give negative feedback so that it's well-received. Interestingly, the survey found that a person's level of confidence and preference for receiving negative feedback are correlated. Key learning: The way in which you give feedback shouldn't be one-size-fits-all.

Next time you're tempted to jump in and do it yourself rather than provide guidance, remember that it's the perfect time to slow down and reflect on your delivery style. It may take longer and you still may end up doing the work, but it's baby steps in the right direction. And if you really can't resist improving the work on your own, jot down notes about why you are making those changes. That way, your team member can learn while you do what you need to do to meet pressing deadlines.

Related: Empowering Team Members Can Be a Disaster If You Don't Do This

3. You avoid confrontation instead of approaching it head on.

Avoidance coping is a coping mechanism we all use; it means you default to behaviors that help you avoid stressful situations. At home, maybe you hit "send to voicemail" when your Aunt Betty calls, because you really don't want to hear about her latest views on politics. At work, we may avoid an abrasive team member instead of giving him tough feedback. Avoiding confrontation, however, only delays progress and growth.

In The Art of Communicating, zen master Thich Nhat Hanh describes how people can practice peace negotiations, or negotiations in which each party employs deep listening and nonviolent speech to reach an agreement. He talks about the importance of leading by example: "We have to be relaxed, to feel well, so that we can make the best decisions possible. When we model relaxation at work, we are already communicating powerfully." You may not be a zen master (I know I'm not), but you can take this advice to heart as you coach your teams.

Instead of avoidance (the easy way out), devise a plan. Jot down what needs to be discussed, review the four steps of nonviolent communication, take a walk if you're feeling anxious, and then approach your team member with the goal of reconciliation in mind.

Related: What's the Secret to Becoming a Leader? Stop Being a Boss.

4. You provide conditional rather than unconditional support.

Some days, I'm a Karamo fan. Other days, Antoni is my favorite. I'm okay with this little bit of inconsistency. It's okay to be fickle when it comes to your favorite Queer Eye guy, but unconditional support of the team is less acceptable. Do you unconsciously judge the success of your team based on their latest win? How's your attitude when you-know-what hits the fan?

It's natural to express excitement when your team reaches annual revenue goals weeks before the holiday season even begins, but those spikes aren't the only time they need encouragement. Providing unconditional support to employees during lulls is just as, if not more, important.

At the end of the day, those superstar teams you hire aren't just working for your company -- they're working for you. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 48 percent of Americans without supervisor support say they are motivated to do their very best at work. For individuals who report having supervisor support, that number skyrockets to 88 percent. In the same study, only 22 percent of those without supervisor support said they'd recommend their organization to peers. An unsurprising 79 percent of those with supervisor support would recommend their organization. The proof is in the pudding: Motivation, brand advocacy and more all point back to leadership practices.

Related: This Assumption About Leadership Could Stall Your Team's Momentum. Don't Let It.

5. You confuse input with output.

Clocking late nights and working weekends aren't necessarily the same as great work. While constant hustling used to be a badge of honor for startup employees, there has been an awakening in tech in terms of the risks associated with burnout. Depression among entrepreneurs is on the rise, and startup employees are being vocal when they're pushed too far.

According to a study conducted by Kronos and Future Workplace, an alarming 95 percent of human resources leaders admitted that employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. This statistic is not unique to startups, but it is telling. "Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions,"  Charlie DeWitt, vice president of business development at Kronos, said in a press release. "While many organizations take steps to manage employee fatigue, there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout."

At Little Passports, we are more focused on outputs than hours in the office. For example, the whole company works from home on Fridays so they can take more time for family vs. commute.

When we let go of our misconceptions around the input required for desired outputs, we uncover healthier ways to work, prioritize and lead.

More from Entrepreneur

One-on-one online sessions with our experts can help you start a business, grow your business, build your brand, fundraise and more.
Book Your Session

Whether you are launching or growing a business, we have all the business tools you need to take your business to the next level, in one place.
Enroll Now

In as little as seven months, the Entrepreneur Authors program will turn your ideas and expertise into a professionally presented book.
Apply Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.