3 Bad Leadership Habits to Leave Behind This Year
Stemming the losses from the Great Resignation are a top priority for leaders this year. The changes needed are not all about the employees. Here are three leadership habits to leave in the past as we charge full speed ahead.
Though 2022 has started off repeating some of the same headlines as early 2021 — a surge in Covid cases and uncertainty surrounding office reopenings and in-person schooling, along with the dual reality of anxiety about the most contagious variant of the pandemic yet for some and an “over it”mentality for others — it doesn’t mean that we should repeat the leadership mistakes we made in 2021 (or even 2020).
Challenges to business that had not been problematic in the past (notably supply chain, distribution and staffing issues) are now first and foremost on the “fix it” list of many business leaders. This discombobulation coupled with the uncertainty in the outside world is causing increased stress for everyone, top to bottom and sideways throughout your organization. The natural inclination, the old way, is to coach everyone to put their heads down and work through the problem at hand. But what if that only exacerbates the stress?
Many of our bad leadership behaviors are rooted in limited empathy. That lack of empathy in leadership has greatly contributed to the employee dissatisfaction fueling the Great Resignation. How about reflecting on the past and changing a few behaviors in order to yield a better outcome that ultimately leads to more success for your organization?
Here are three bad habits to leave behind in 2021 and the new behaviors to replace them.
Bad Habit No. 1: Cameras Off
I’m surprised how many people still jump onto video calls with their cameras off. Excuses abound, from no excuse to messy backgrounds or hair to more legitimate technical issues. Yet people then complain that they can’t make the same connection with their colleagues as they can in person. Of course you can’t. It doesn’t help if you can’t see the person you are talking to. Building rapport and understanding requires paying attention to the nonverbal cues as well as what is being said.
New 2022 Habit: Turn your camera on and make it a requirement of all participants to do the same. Then notice how much better you are able to comprehend and be understood by your colleagues. And don’t be afraid to show a little mess in the background — it reveals that you are human, just like everyone else.
Bad Habit No. 2: All Business All the Time
What we’ve really lost in our work from home reality are those spontaneous moments of connection. Passing by coworkers in the hallway, peering over the cubicle wall to ask a question and chatting in the kitchen or at the water cooler have all gone away, and Slack, Teams and Zoom haven’t figured out how to replicate it digitally — at least not yet. Maybe in the metaverse.
What’s been lost is the ability to check in and observe how your team is really doing. You might have been able to tell when an employee was stressed out or not giving it their best when you were in person. Now, how can you tell? Additionally, your team must find new ways to connect with each other and build their own rapport.
New 2022 Habit: Make an investment of time and effort into your team. Rewrite the script on the traditional update meeting by focusing the first 10-15 minutes on personal talk. Ask broad, exploratory questions such as, “How are you?” and don’t let “fine” be the answer. “Tell me more about that…” is a great follow-up that I often use to get people to elaborate without leading them or making them feel uncomfortable. And most importantly, open up and share about yourself. Let them in not only to your personal life but also to your feelings as well. It’s okay to admit concern over growing pandemic cases or something happening with your family. Model what you want from your team.
Bad Habit No. 3: Talking About Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle
Were you one of the leaders who got slapped on the wrist when you talked wistfully about a “return to work”? You and I know you meant the resumption of work out of an office space. However, many people took offense at what they perceived as a slight, particularly when they had worked hard to make working from home work for them and their employer. They’ve been working, mostly uninterrupted, for almost two years, but that phrase implies that work needs to happen in an office if a company wants to be successful. Yet studies are finding that productivity didn’t take the big hit that industry leaders feared. The past is the past, and it's behind us. Unlike salmon, who reliably swim upstream to spawn in the same spot for generations, our route to the past is irreversibly blocked. To use another analogy, the genie is out of the bottle; good luck trying to get it back in.
A longitudinal study that my firm, Ignite 360, has been conducting since the start of the pandemic has found that 72% of U.S. adults are seeking some degree of change in their lives instead of a return to the way things were in 2019. Only 18% wanted to go back to the way things were. Who were those people who wanted to go back? It tended to skew toward older, white, conservative and more male than female. You might consider it what some call “the patriarchy.” Those individuals want their old normal back. In fact, they even talk about it that way. But time, as we experience it, goes forward, not backward. So instead of crooning like Cher about turning back time, how about…
New 2022 Habit: Embrace change and co-create a solution with your employees. Take the time to learn what they want. Help them understand your own concerns. Share if you are worried about lack of team cohesion, or collaboration, or finding the next brilliant idea. If you have a lease hanging over your head, perhaps they can help figure out the solution. The Great Resignation is showing us just how far this genie is out of the bottle. You won’t be able to squeeze it back in. You can work with the genie to establish a new normal that keeps up with where your employees are. Begin a dialogue with the people you work with, perhaps through a small series of virtual town halls or a contest where different work groups ideate on the problem, and the team with the best ideas is rewarded. Among my clients wrestling with this, the happiest employees are the ones that have been able to contribute to the solution, not just be lectured or dictated to.
Where does that leave you to focus in 2022? Based on all the cargo ships I see parked in San Francisco Bay, I have a feeling supply chain and distribution issues aren’t going to sort themselves out anytime soon — but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put a renewed focus on your employees.
Collaborate with your HR department to understand what your employees really want and need at this point. Don’t just do a quant survey to take a pulse check. Conduct focus groups or have one-on-one conversations that unlock the why behind the what of your data. Reach out to employees and people on your team yourself. Be vulnerable.
Many companies are finally waking up to the reality that employees are their most valuable asset. As such, treat them that way. Meet their needs, and they’ll meet yours. After all, it’s an employee that’s going to solve your next problem.
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