You thought being a leader would be straightforward.
You worked hard, learned a career, paid your dues, and then you moved into management—leading others to create even greater things. You follow the rules about good leadership, and your preparation pays off perfectly.
If only that was how it worked!
As you know, the reality of managing others can be frustrating and hard. Emotions, personalities, and office politics wreak havoc.
Having spent a decade working with leaders across the globe, and with my own experience, I’ve found that people are often tripped up by common ideas that don’t work.
For my upcoming book, The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day, I conducted significant research into what inspires people to follow others—as well as the behaviors that turn them off. Here are three seemingly smart strategies that end up backfiring:
1. You Work Too Much
Many people take a “more is more” approach to the workplace, striving to arrive first and leave last. The idea is that long hours will demonstrate true dedication—and you think it’s important to model hard-working behavior.
But guess what? For leaders, working to the point of exhaustion makes you look disorganized (or inefficient).
Further, stress is toxic to a team. It’s emotionally contagious. Employees will pick up stress from their managers, and it’ll bring down the group.
Of course, sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t have a choice. Maybe you’re new to the role or in the midst of a busy time and need to pull longer shifts. If that’s the case, there are two things you can do to avoid adverse outcomes on your team.
First, include them when possible. People feel more empowered when they’re engaged in something major, rather than just witnessing their boss chug coffee and look super stressed. (Bonus: Delegating may help you leave the office earlier.)
Second, don’t let it turn into a habit. Once you have your feet back under you, make a conscious effort to keep regular hours. This’ll show your team that you believe in work-life balance for the staff—yourself included.
2. You Won’t Say “I Don’t Know”
People often feel uncomfortable when they don’t know something. They worry that, if they admit it, their team will lose faith in them.
I’ve seen even the most accomplished leaders get tripped up when they’re confronted with a question they can’t answer. And the higher up the ladder you go, the more detached you’ll be from day-to-day tasks and the greater the likelihood someone may ask you a question you don’t know.
If you have every answer, you shut down opportunities for collaboration—and dissent. Admitting you don’t know something creates room for more expansive thinking, and shows confidence and a willingness to learn.
So say “I don’t know,” and then build on it. If you’d like to hear ideas, immediately follow up by asking: “What do you think?” or “What would you recommend?” If neither of these seem appropriate, another option is, “Here’s what I can tell you” (followed by a piece of information that directs the conversation where you think it needs to go).
3. You Hide Your Feelings
Some stereotype an ideal manager as stoic and collected. And while you don’t want to fly off the handle at your employees, being an inspiring leader requires you to show some emotion.
Good work often includes asking people to stretch out their comfort zones. It means celebrating success and acknowledging (and learning from) failures. It can stir deep emotions of fear, anxiety, excitement, or joy.
People trust leaders they view as authentic and sincere. They don’t want a perfect automaton to follow. By sharing our emotions, we allow others to share theirs, which encourages personal investment.
I encourage leaders to practice showing authenticity. (I know that sounds completely counterintuitive, but it works!) First, work on internalized authenticity. This means knowing your core values and brand and truly believing in the message you hope to communicate.
Then you can move on to externalized authenticity. This involves being transparent to those around you, using genuine language to “say it like you mean it,” and not being afraid to express vulnerability.
Your goal is to be the strongest leader possible. You’ve paid a lot of attention to following the rules, but sometimes the best you can do is ignore outdated advice. So if there’s a piece of advice that’s not working for you and your team, don’t be afraid to innovate and try a different approach.