People leave their managers, not their jobs.
This is not a new problem, yet it still persists. According to a recent Gallup report, half of all employees have left a job at some point in their career in order to get away from a manager.
In today’s climate of uncertainty, it’s even more important to focus on the development of your managers, as they are the ones who directly impact the happiness and performance of your top performers. If you don’t go upstream and fix the root of the problem, no amount of free lunches or ping pong tournaments will help.
Over the last decade, I’ve had a chance to see many leadership blunders. I’ve compiled four of the more devastating blunders, with the goal to bring awareness of what might be holding your team back from reaching its full potential.
1. Leaders drop feedback bombs.
This first blunder occurs when a leader shares minimal feedback with their employees. During a time of high stress or after a project failure, they drop a feedback bomb. This burst of feedback holds employees back, even top performers, from learning, growing and getting better.
The truth is, your people want to get better at their jobs; they want to succeed. Instead of waiting, give feedback, both positive and negative, early and often. When you see something working, share what’s working with your employee and vice versa. It takes practice, and in doing so, you’ll be giving your employees key insights and information to grow.
2. Leaders are focused on task managing instead of coaching.
Most managers are top performers, promoted because of their contribution to the company. Once promoted, they are still expected to deliver quality work while also being responsible for the performance of their team.
Often, when they see a task delayed, incomplete or done wrong, instead of working to help their employee do the task right, they end up taking the work on themselves. Instead of leading their team, these managers become glorified task managers.
When you do your team’s work, you’re inadvertently telling them you don’t trust them to do the work themselves — that you don’t believe in them. It’s a quick and easy way to stifle, de-motivate and, eventually, lose top talent.
Author and researcher David Epstein outlines the importance of making early mistakes in developing any new skill. In his book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, he shares how “doing poorly now is essential for great performance later.”
Avoid this pitfall by focusing on coaching rather than doing and by helping your people learn how to do the task right. Leave room for mistakes because no one is perfect and gets it right the first time. I’m not saying you have to let them make client-losing mistakes, but allow space for mini-lessons to happen along the way. It’s how they will learn, grow and ultimately get better.
3. Leaders are inconsistent.
During day one of our management boot camp training, we ask the group of leaders to share what they believe makes a leader great. What’s the most common answer? Trust.
This is not incredibly surprising. It’s hard to do work for someone you don’t trust, someone you don’t feel psychologically safe around. If trust is so crucial, what creates trust? How as a manager do you go about building the trust of your team?
When you look deeper at trust, where it comes from and how it’s generated, it’s actually quite simple. Trust is generated by doing what you say you will do, day in and day out. Trust comes from consistency.
If one day, you bring me an issue and I am open and receptive, then a week later you bring me a new issue and I respond with hostility, you’ll likely be confused and unsure of how I will respond to a future issue that arises.
If, when an issue arises, you know you can bring it to me and trust that I won’t explode and explore the root of the issue alongside you to come to a proper resolution, you have trust in me.
Trust is created by the way you react and respond on a daily basis. It’s simple and it’s hard. Trust requires you as a manager to be consistent on how you show up on a daily basis with your people and in how you hold people accountable, including yourself.
4. Leaders set low expectations.
On most teams, there are a group of top performers, a group of non-performers and those in the middle who are not yet stellar, but not doing too bad either. It’s natural for a manager to focus her energy on the top performers and even more energy on those she believes still have a chance to be top performers, leaving the non-performers to flounder.
By thinking that certain employees have high potential, managers devote more of their time, energy and attention to these employees. This might make logical sense, but a Harvard study shows how treating all of your people like high potentials actually drives greater increases in performance compared to setting expectations high for a select few. It’s not the label of high potential that increases performance, rather it’s showing your employees you care.
To do this, make sure you are meeting regularly with all your employees, and having one-on-one conversations. Find out how they want to grow and develop themselves, and use this information to suggest projects, training and events that will aid them.
The world of work is changing and in this new world, the companies that succeed are the ones that realize their success does not come from focusing on their top performers. Success comes from focusing energy and attention on developing managers to be better leaders of people and be coaches who challenge and help develop their employees.
Originally published in Forbes on March 23, 2020.