Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about leadership a lot. I was recently nominated for the University of the West Indies Premier Leadership Award – Female. This is the highest award given by the university to someone from the student body who is believed to have exemplified what it means to be a leader: locally, regionally, and internationally. Before my nomination, I wasn’t particularly reflective about my leadership style but once I received wind of my nomination I, being the harshest critic of myself, started to think of all the ways I’ve failed in leadership. Naturally, my mind also wandered into the realm of the shortcomings of persons who lead me. As such this post is about two don’ts of leadership. I’m sure there are a lot more things that can be added to this list but these two have been recurrent in different spheres of my life so I’m zoning in on them in this post. These are things which a good leader should avoid if they’re going to be impactful and effective.
- Don’t throw out the baby with the bath-water: This point is about motivation. A core responsibility of any leader is to keep his/her team motivated. This is usually done through positive or negative reinforcement. The challenge with this though is striking a balance. Firstly, know your team. Different people respond differently to similar situations. If you’re leading a large team of individuals take the time to understand what keeps each member motivated and inspired to give their best. Too many times leaders use a broad brush approach to motivation and fail to acknowledge that a different approach may be needed to adequately help some individuals. This tends to happen when leading a large group of people and that’s where you run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water. If you’re having a meeting to openly discuss the shortcomings of your team, a good balance would be to recognize the good of each department/subdivision before delving into their shortcomings. Can you imagine walking out of a meeting where all you’ve heard was what you’ve done wrong? For some people, this can push them to do better but for others, this could make them feel dejected and uninspired to continue working. The same can happen if you only highlight the great work of your team without taking the time to show them those areas they can build upon. Motivation is necessary, make the best of it by understanding your team and striking a balance when motivating them to perform at their best.
- All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others: Let’s talk disciplinary action. In most organisations, there are stipulations in place to discipline persons if needed. The worst sin a leader can commit is to have varying standards of discipline for the same error. What do I mean by this? Well, if I assign duties to my team members and there are two members who failed to execute their duties it would be remiss of me to issue a letter to one person, while the other gets a verbal warning. This principle is extended to rewards as well. If a standard is not set for negative and positive sanctions you risk ostracizing members of your team. The person who receives the warning letter may become demotivated and rebellious because of unfair treatment. Additionally, the person who received the verbal warning may be seen as the “teacher’s pet” by other members of the team and face backlash from his/her peers. If you intend to maintain order and cohesion among your team, set a standard for positive and negative sanctions and stick to it.
- Do as I say, not as I do: Talking about cardinal sins, the WORST thing a leader can do is hold persons to a standard they themselves do not uphold. I’ve had leaders who stressed the need for me to go above and beyond in service, while they did the bare minimum when it came to the fulfilling of duties or execution of events. Being a leader does not come with a magical veil that protects you from scrutiny. When you lead, you’re more likely to be scrutinized and your actions have a greater effect on the team than anyone else. As such, you should be careful to lead by example. Don’t ask your team to give of their best while you operate at a mediocre standard. Your drive and standards will set the pace for your team. If you give your best, more times than not, your team will give their best also, but if you fail to put your best foot forward no amount of pep talks, threats or emails will help your team reach their full potential. What you’ll get is an uninspired group who do the bare minimum to keep their positions and no more.
I know you’re probably thinking of other things leaders do that hinder their teams so feel free to share them with me. Also, if you disagree with any of the points I’ve made let me know (I might learn a thing or two).