Some 90 percent of startups will not see the light of day, and by “light” I’m referring to profit. The reasoning for why failure prevails ranges from a lack of capital, poor marketing, ineffective product development or the inability to meet demand. But if we were to trace the cause of each, we would likely end up at the same source: leadership.
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Leadership is both the problem and solution to the challenges businesses face today. However, it’s not just organizational leadership that’s the culprit. Leaders exists at all levels of the company, from the new hire up to the CEO, and the habits or behaviors they exhibit and expect in others can be either strongly supportive or terribly toxic. Here are five ways leaders can suffocate their organizations:
1. They want something from nothing.
There are three decision-making criteria that drive a senior leader’s decisions: time, resources and requirements. If one of these elements is lacking, this entails doing more with less — spreading the workforce too thin. Doing so may work in the short-term, but if you don’t want your company to be another stat on the Gallup employee engagement survey, don’t add unnecessary pressure to an already frenetic work pace.
2. They expect too much, too soon.
One of the fastest ways to burn people out is to add another layer of time to an already pressing deadline. Throwing someone into the fire of uncertainty with little or no guidance is one thing, doing so against a ticking clock is another story. The pressure of time has a way of adding undo stress to one’s already-stressful life, and expecting too much too soon doesn’t help.
The solution: take the time to get clear on expectations. Don’t be afraid to say “No” when demand outweighs the ability to meet it.
3. They speak one language.
I'm not referring to language in terms of ethnicity or culture, but in terms of numbers. Leaders who ignore qualitative improvements live in a false reality. Yes, data and information are important because they feed higher level decisions. However, so does the “soft stuff” of trusting and communicating. It’s not easy assigning a value to the trust that exists between employees, but remove it and you’ll quickly see how valuable it was.
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4. They reward conformism.
Just because that employee was a stellar manager doesn’t mean he or she will be a great leader, and making the jump from tactical to strategic mindset doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Promotions should (ideally) be based off merit rather than previous experience, politicking or subject-matter expertise. If you’re looking to promote someone, stick with what we all learned in school: the 5Ws and H.
- Who is being promoted?
- Why is this person being promoted?
- What are we promoting, the person or the skill?
- When is the opportune time to promote this person?
- What will be the obstacles to his or her success?
- How can we help him or her bridge the gap from manager to leader?
5. They don’t communicate.
Communication is at the heart of getting results, and how leaders show up is everything. The verbal and non-verbal messages you send all add up to your personal leadership “brand” that either attracts followers like bees to honey or repels them like the plague. There are a number of ways leaders can effectively communicate with their employees, such as holding town halls, taking a different route through the office to increase visibility or setting weekly one-on-ones just to check in.
The hardest part about leading effectively is being aware of any suffocating practices. Self-awareness serves as the antibody for this, helping to re-align any derailing behavior and get results back on track. How do you do this? See number five above.
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