I was working for a company in New York City at a weekly meeting with 20 other people when what we call “9/11 “happened. The owner of the firm didn’t tell us what was unfolding around us. I had no way of getting home easily without hitchhiking. Consultants who worked for me were in the World Trade Center and unreachable by phone. I couldn’t speak with my wife because cell phone service wasn’t working in Manhattan. As I walked and walked and walked with tens of thousands of others, I saw the smoldering site where the buildings once stood. Later that day, I received a phone call from my boss telling me to come to work the next day. He also told me I was an idiot for not having sold disaster recovery services to one of the nearby companies whose building was destroyed even though my company had no capabilities in the area.
This happened to me. Some of you may have experienced something like this during the early days of Covid, when you might have been encouraged to risk your life to go to work. I know my son went through something like that with his employer, who demanded he commute into Manhattan when over 800 people a day were dying from the virus, and he was someone with an asthma history that put him at risk.
These may be extreme examples of dreadful leadership mistakes that scare people away from working for you or cause you to receive mediocre performance from your staff. Even under ordinary conditions, there are things you may be doing that may be causing your team to hide or leave you to work for someone else. These are ten scary leadership and management mistakes that you may be committing.
- You exaggerated the job and the opportunity. The interview process allows you to evaluate and assess people, speak to multiple people on different occasions, and then hire them. Unfortunately, you misrepresented the opportunity, the nature and ability of their co-workers, and the upside potential of the job. Now they know it. Everyone exaggerates during interviews— job hunters do it, and so do you. Statistics show that almost 2/3 of hiring managers regret a hire within 18 months of the person joining. What can you be more truthful about representing the job to potential hires? How can you improve how you evaluate someone for it?
- You try to hire for fit. Since everyone is on good behavior, you are evaluating people on their best behavior, rather than the human beings they are with faults and warts. Most employers and job hunters are on good behavior. Neither of you meets one another when you are.
You are putting on an act for one another. How could you possibly evaluate someone for their fit when each of you is trying to deceive one another?
- You run meetings everyone has to attend but are actually about one or two people. On too many occasions, you require the department to participate in a meeting because, in your opinion, someone did something wrong instead of discussing what happened with the person individually. You take everyone away from their work to listen to what happened, why it should not be done that way, rather than talking with the individual, understanding what occurred and why they chose to act in that manner. Five or 10 or 20 people’s time is wasted while you have what should be a private conversation public. I remember sitting through too many of those, wondering why I was there and what I could have been doing instead.
- You can’t or don’t mitigate institutional friction that keeps people from performing well. Of course, there is friction in every organization. However, some resistance is detrimental to the success of your staff. Unfortunately, you can’t (because it is outside of your control) or don’t (because you don’t think it matters) fix the issue or issues for your people. They are left with the choice of tolerating the situation or going. They may accept it for a while but, eventually, there will be one too many burdens, and they will leave. You may question their willingness to persevere. What are they supposed to do? Fight with the system all the time? Their job is to succeed, and, like a good sports manager, you are supposed to put them in the position they can win. Their departure is your fault, not theirs.
- You would rather do it yourself. When you were in their role, you did it exceptionally well. That’s how you got promoted to manager or director or VP. Now that you are in a position where someone reports to you, it seems easier to do it yourself and explain how to do it. Your direct reports become frustrated because they aren’t learning anything, and they understand that because you won’t teach it to them, you either don’t trust them or think of them as incapable. That’s what your behavior tells them. It is scary to see how many managers, directors, VPs, , act this way.
- You don’t give regular feedback. When I ran a local business group, I would meet with our leadership team monthly. I knew that people didn’t always come to me with what they wanted. They might tell their friends who held leadership roles. So, I would start our meeting by asking, “What are we doing well there we should continue doing?” Then, I would ask, “what should we be doing differently?” If all you do is give what you consider is constructive criticism without offering any praise, they will take every interaction with you as you coming to criticize them again. You will destroy your confidence and desire to work for you.
- You grab credit for your staff’s work without acknowledging them. Many years ago, a friend worked for a financial firm where they sent the entire organization a newsletter about things going on within the firm. The company introduced a revolutionary product that was trying thing money to manage interview organization. They had a photograph of those who were involved. Six men and women wore expensive suits and ties with their arms around one another in a self-congratulatory pose. Off to the side was one uncomfortable younger individual who was wearing a white shirt and slacks. He was obviously the programmer who did all the work to make this great product possible. Unfortunately, he was an afterthought to the credit-grabbing executives in the photograph. The article contained one quote from the programmer who showed his appreciation for being chosen for the project. None of the executives acknowledged in their comments. I saw this happen with someone I knew who developed a global marketing campaign for this company that helped it pick itself up off the mat during the pandemic and generally enormous sales. He was passed over for a raise and promotion while his bosses received them. He did the work, and they got the accolades. Suffice it to say, he doesn’t work there any longer.
- You don’t understand the balance between being friendly and being hands-off. The team wants to feel connected to you, but they don’t want you in their business all the time. They want to know you’re available and that you care, understand what is going on and that you, as their boss see them for all their strengths and weaknesses. They may like “friendly,” and you have to be their boss with all the responsibilities and demands of being one. You have to hold people accountable for their commitments and hire people who want to do great work while giving them the tools to do it. Being too friendly may make it hard for you to be demanding. Being true hands-off may cause them to coast. Instead, you can encourage them to be great. I know in US culture, there is a habit of saying, “Take it easy.” Instead, I say, “Be great.” You should be helping your people aspire to be great and send a subtle message of your expectations for them.
- You don’t keep your commitments. I worked for two firms where each owner had a bad habit of committing to doing something, not following through and pretending he never committed. “I never said that” was how they would plead their case for not having committed to do something. If someone on your staff said that to you, how would you respond? Of course, you would tell them that they had, and it would adversely affect how you view them. Your trust in them would break. It would affect their reviews and promotional opportunities. What you are doing to your team becomes their nightmare. You lied. You denied that you lied. You accused them of making up a story. You attacked them. It is a betrayal on your part that may leave the body intact at their desk, but you lost your soul. Vampires do this.
- You overwork your staff/have unreasonable expectations for their work commitment. I recently received an email from a business owner complaining how two of their excellent workers only worked until 6 PM and were unavailable after that. What should they do? I responded privately by asking whether they were told what the expectations were when they were interviewed? If not, you have no grounds for complaint. You didn’t tell them. How can you blame them after not telling them? Too often, managers, senior leaders, and business owners hire people and then tell them the expectations of their time and effort. They then tell them to be at their desk at 7 AM, work until midnight with breaks. It is a version of slavery designed to create psychological chains. Oh! I forgot to mention that this person makes less than $100000 per year and has a young child at home. Did you think this might be important to say?
These all represent horror stories I’ve heard during my career in search and, now, coaching. It is an expensive management/leadership lesson when it is challenging to attract and retain capable staff, being a monster or vampire, torturing people out of your organization through these and other ghoulish mistakes is an expensive management/leadership lesson to learn the hard way.
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter, is a career and leadership coach working with people worldwide. If you are interested in him coaching you or your organization, you can schedule time for a free discovery call or for coaching at www.TheBigGameHunter.us
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2021
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2200 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV, and 90+ smartsets.
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