5 Unintended Behaviors to Stop Now: Themes from Leadership Feedback

Over the years I have had interviews with countless managers, direct reports, and peers of leaders I work with in an effort to provide meaningful feedback on the perception of their leadership. I have debriefed hundreds of different 360 feedback assessment reports to leaders with the same intention.

There are some themes that come up over and over again in these feedback vehicles that we can all learn something from.

While your leadership skills may be strong and your intentions the best, there are some things you may be doing that you are unaware of that are having an unintended impact on how people perceive you.

Although perception is merely a perspective and may or may not reflect reality—I always argue that someone’s reality is whatever his/her perception is.

1. You are too collaborative

While collaboration and listening to differing perspectives is an important part of leadership, there is a point where failing to have a point of view and make a decision are detrimental. Constantly changing direction and having more and more meetings to include more people can be frustrating and appear wishy-washy.

Do you involve the right people in decision-making, make a decision, and move to action?

2.  You use tentative or unsure language

There is much talk about “leadership” or “executive presence” for a reason. Whether we like it or not, people size up our ability and competence to lead by a variety of factors, and some of those factors are image based. I always stress substance over style, but am very clear from my experience over the years that style simply cannot be ignored as a factor. One of the main things that can derail your presence as a leader is constantly using tentative or unsure language such as:

“I think I can”

“Maybe you can…”

“If you don’t mind…”

“This may be dumb but…”

“I don’t know much about this but…”

“I only …”

“This may not be relevant but…”

These phrases serve to place a question mark regarding your credibility in the minds of others.   Whether you say these things out loud or are thinking them, they are unnecessary.

3. You don’t delegate

One of the dances we all participate in as leaders is the “what do I do vs. what do those that work for me do” dance. As we move into roles with more and more responsibility and direct reports, how well we dance this dance becomes more and more critically important. When you are involved in every detail of everything, you are probably demotivating and disempowering your team, seen as overly controlling, and driving yourself crazy with overwhelm and stress. Letting go of control by building a team you can trust, setting a clear vision and goals, and establishing clear expectations and criteria for success is vital to your own success.

4.  You are too task-focused

Often the reward for getting things done and doing all the things others don’t or won’t do are the things that get you promoted into leadership roles. While the art of getting things done will always be important, how you do that will make or break your leadership success. Getting things done through others is now more important than getting things done by yourself. This not only means delegating, but it also means focusing on the defining the what. Setting a strategic direction, looking into the future and navigating the ship’s future direction are just as important if not more important than merely sailing the ship.

5. You neglect the people part

Regardless of what business you are in and what function you are leading, there is one obvious common denominator. You are leading people. Call them “human resources” if you like, but “human” is the operative word. Humans are complex beings, with diverse values, attitudes, mindsets, beliefs, backgrounds and behaviors. While you didn’t sign up to be and are not expected to be a therapist, a basic understanding of human behavior and motivation is a prerequisite to leadership. So are empathy, social intelligence, and interpersonal skills.   If you treat people like mere resources to get the job done, your leadership endeavors will likely be less successful than you’d prefer.

Although we use the phrase as a cliché, feedback can indeed be a gift. It often points to the unintended impact our behaviors have on others. Taking the time to reflect and learn from the themes that come up from our own or the leadership feedback of others may just be the catalyst that drives us to another phase of our leadership journey.