By Marissa Levin, an EO Chesapeake Bay member and CEO of Information Experts.
If there’s one thing I learned as an entrepreneur, it’s this: Leadership isn’t just about knowing how to do the right things. It’s also about being hyper-aware of behaviors that can quickly alienate employees and bring down the organization. My 17 years of business leadership have taught me this, as well as five other ways to fail at leadership:
- Hoard the decision-making process or refuse to delegate. Trust in your people— that’s why you have them. Business owners are often their own worst enemy because they become a bottleneck to growth. If employees have to beg for approval on every decision, how can anything move forward? Example: Our office manager took the initiative to move into a new HR role. This meant that she had to own the relationship with our HR benefits company. The company we selected was not a good hand-holder; it wasn’t their culture to guide new HR managers through a learning curve. Our HR manager felt set up for failure with this firm, so she did her research and found one that was a better fit. Had I micromanaged instead of empowering her, we wouldn’t have found a great firm, and more importantly, our HR manager wouldn’t have gained the knowledge she needed to excel in her role.
- Have your mind made up before listening to input. Few things are as demoralizing as walking into a room, knowing no one will take your opinion into consideration. One of the greatest gifts about owning a company is being surrounded by intelligent people who can teach you a lot. Every day, I learn new ideas and discover better ways to run my business from my employees. It’s important that I try to be a knowledge sponge.
- Tell employees you support “innovation,” but then penalize them for trial and error. Innovation is a nice buzzword. Many companies say they support it, but do their cultures allow for failure? Failure is the flip-side of innovation. Progress doesn’t occur without risk; innovation doesn’t happen without mistakes. How well does your culture embrace trial and error?
- Empower staff without clearly established processes to follow. To empower doesn’t mean letting employees do what they want, and then disciplining them for making mistakes. It means establishing and communicating very specific expectations for performance, and then giving them the autonomy to perform their jobs. For example, we established a Project Management Office so that all of our PMs follow the same processes and are responsible for managing projects to the same set of metrics. We don’t micromanage. Instead, they are accountable for presenting reports twice a month to the management team and fellow PMs to ensure all projects are healthy.
- Force new hire decisions without employee input, and expect staff to blindly embrace them. Want people to work well together? Give them input into new hires and team formations. Forcing new hires on a team without any buy-in is a shortcut to personnel problems. The fact that your friend’s cousin’s daughter is graduating and doesn’t have a job is irrelevant. You’re running a company, and every employee is depending on everyone else to deliver.
Effective leadership requires strong self-awareness. The more self-knowledge we have of our interactions and how our behavior affects others, the stronger our organizations will be.