Even the best women in leadership can drive their employees crazy sometimes.
Do you know what you do that has them complaining at the water cooler or getting off track?
Probably not. Because their gripes are your blind spots.
Of course, no woman in leadership wants to intentionally distract or upset employees. That’s why it’s important to know the behaviors that most often bother employees. Once you know them, and understand why they bother employees, you can avoid or overcome them.
Here’s what to watch for:
1. Pointing at the mistake
Some leaders never seem to focus on what’s done well or correctly.
“Instead, their first comments call attention to the inconsequential mistake,” says Dianna Booher, a communication strategist and president of Booher Research.
Tip: Focus on what’s right first. Suggest must-do improvements after the victory has sunk in. Avoid giving a compliment, then starting the next sentence with “But.” What follows “but” negates the positive feedback.
2. Holding on
Sometimes, leaders don’t know when to let go – or don’t want to let go. They assign work and lead employees through it anyway.
Tip: You want to assign projects, emphasize goals, give the necessary resources, offer warnings and safeguards on what could go wrong, require check-ins – and get out of the way. If employees are trained and encouraged, they’ll get it done. Or they’ll learn from setbacks.
Women leaders who feel they must maintain control might subtly remind employees that they’re the smartest person in the room. They talk a lot, listen much less and share a lot of war stories.
Tip: You want to hire smart people who can help the company grow and help teams succeed through their different perspectives. Get employees regular training so they’re equipped to contribute on a deeper level. Then listen to and use the ideas they’ve gained from training and experience.
4. Getting emotional
While it’s important to acknowledge ups and downs, women in leadership don’t want to wear emotions on their sleeves. Employees don’t know what to expect – and will steer clear – of leaders who are angry and withdrawn when things are bad, and generous and pleasant only when things are good.
Tip: Acknowledge emotions, but don’t let them change the way you manage and relate to employees. You can tell employees when you’re happy, excited, frustrated or disappointed. Then continue to act professionally, focused on the next business goal.
5. Changing on a dime
Emergencies happen. So on a few occasions leaders have to change plans at the last minute. But employees can’t stand it when the boss often changes or cancels meetings, priorities and events. It sends the message that your schedule is important, but the employees’ isn’t. Even worse, productivity and morale will crumble as people reshuffle their schedules because of last-minute changes.
Tip: Include time each day to put out fires or handle unexpected meetings. Then you won’t have to cancel something to take care of them.
For example, Julie Zhuo, Product Design VP at Facebook, takes 30 minutes every Monday morning to study her calendar and identify the three most important things to accomplish that week. She blocks out time to get them done. She moves onto meetings, scrutinizing what they’re about. If she doesn’t know, she emails the organizer for details. She’ll cancel regular meetings if there’s nothing new to cover. That sets her up to cancel or change less and accomplish more.
6. Being distant
Giving employees the tools to work independently is a powerful management approach. But sometimes leaders believe autonomy is the end-all, and their hands-off approach leaves employees feeling ignored.
Tip: Stay involved. Ask employees how they feel about their work and progress to help open up conversations, rather than just ask what they’re doing to get the job done.
No leader can be perfect all the time (or even part of the time). But when you know the habits or inadvertent one-time errors that get under employees’ skin, you can better prepare to lead them.