TAG Consulting

Article

Three Culture-Killing Mistakes Leaders Can Make


At TAG, we wake up every day committed to helping leaders and organizations perform at a higher level, in ways that lead to productivity, employee and team engagement, and success as measured by a chosen mission.

The primary way we do that is by serving leaders who are committed to crafting thriving organizational cultures where everyone realizes their innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference. This can’t happen unless leaders are focused on the strengths, not the weaknesses of their people.

Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But combine decades of experience and you’ll see some common mistakes leaders make that can be culture-killers unless they’re addressed.

Lacking self-awareness. Like the general population, managers tend to have little self-awareness, all the while thinking that they know themselves perfectly well. But study after study continues to confirm the fact that our minds generally are very unreliable. And this is especially true when it comes to knowing ourselves and analyzing our own behavior.

A question we like to ask is “What is it like to be on the receiving end of you”? Many leaders have no clue as to their own ‘wiring’ and how their behavior is perceived by those around them. That’s why in our consulting practice, we take a great deal of time to assess people and organizations, to get a handle on how people are wired, and how they go about ‘doing life.’

Managing and leadership generally has many behavioral facets: how I deal with superiors, with peers, with subordinates. How I communicate both verbally and non-verbally. What activities energize. Which drain and deplete. One of the most interesting facets of leading is the decision-making process. Most managers will tell you that they make decisions logically and reasonably. But studies indicate quite the opposite. Your desires decide what you want. Your logical brain crafts an explanation, and you execute.

A thriving culture can be so powerful that it is a counterweight to some of our own worst impulses and default thinking.

Mistaking ‘care’ for affirmation. A manager has taken a new position in a new city in the non-profit organization in which she has worked successfully for some time. This is a significant promotion which carries with it a great deal of responsibility and a team of eight direct reports. After she has been in this new position for six months, one of her direct reports levels the charge on her that she “doesn’t care.”

Sue, our manager in question, is a brilliant woman who has always made significant demands on herself, always expecting the highest performance, and needing little if any outside encouragement or motivation. All of her motivation is internal. This profile has translated into superior performance, and has led to one promotion after another.

Now with the charge of ‘not caring,’ she is baffled, and wonders if she is doing the wrong thing by her team. When asked about some of the history of her new team, as best she understands it, she explains that they have been led by managers who were very empathetic, constantly asking reports about their current personal situations. Accountability was another matter. Yes, there were the usual number of high performers. But mediocrity and poor performance went unchallenged.

Now Sue has entered this organization with high standards and a very specific vision (endorsed by leadership) as to where she wants to take the organization, and the performance needed by everyone to achieve.

Sue needs to have her situation reframed, so that she can refocus on what is actually going on, and what she now needs to do. She has become semi-paralyzed with the ‘not caring’ charge. But is that charge valid? Does she in fact need to alter her behavior?

The reframe is the fact that this is the organizational system pushing back on her higher standards, and need for accountability. She definitely is not the empathetic person delving into the personal lives of her reports. She is the high-achieving manager with a definite program that requires particular performance goals. And now the system is reacting and pushing back on her, attempting to alter her behavior (as she is trying to alter the behavior of her people) and become more in line with what the system has experienced down through its existence.

Caring has to do with nurture. It is a valid characteristic, when used at the right time in the proper context. But it often competes with another value: challenge – the value that sets goals and expectations of performance to reach those goals. Proper parenting is a mixture of nurture and challenge. When one of these values is emphasized too strongly over the other, difficulties will begin to emerge for the children.

As a first step for Sue, clear performance standards and metrics need to be established for each position. This first element is unfortunately lacking time and again across the organizational spectrum. When there is unclear performance standards, expectations become fuzzy (what am I to do, at what intensity, over what period of time?).

As people are clear on what is expected of them, it becomes clear what represents superior, average, or subpar performance. As people perform in expected to above expected levels, the manager can then affirm them. These people will then feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and understand clearly how they are contributing to the successful completion of the mission.

Failing to hold people accountable. This builds on the point made above. First, people need clear expectations. Then they need periodic feedback (accountability) as to how they are measuring up to the expectations. What often happens is two fold: 1) no precise performance standards are ever laid down specifically tailored to each position, and 2) no periodic performance reviews are scheduled wherein employees are evaluated on the specifically tailored performance standards. Evaluations, when they are conducted, are general and subjective, and therefore of no practical use in helping employees understand how their performance fits into the overall mission of the organization. These evaluations are useless in assisting employees to understand how they are performing with a view toward making modifications for improvement.

Do you recognize any of those mistakes in your own organization?

How can you address them beginning today?