You want to get better at leadership. Yet you don’t have the interest or energy to crack open one of the fourteen books on the topic sitting unread on your credenza. Nor do you have the time or money to attend a weeklong seminar at a top executive education program.
I’m here to help you out.
I’ve led dozens of sessions on this topic. I ask attendees to list five ineffective and five effective leadership behaviors. The same items always pop up.
This is what participants, employees just like yours, tell me they detest and admire in the managers they’ve encountered in their careers.
5 Ineffective Leadership Behaviors
People do not like when their bosses micromanage and viscerally rebel against it. Micromanagers have a hard time letting go of the tactical. People often micromanage because they emerged from an individual-contributor role and miss the familiar things they used to do well or don’t know where to spend their time. This is a common trap for those promoted from within and frontline supervisors.
A micromanager will check in with you frequently and second-guess your approach to your own task. They’ll give you a project, tell you it’s yours to do, then quickly correct you when you wander from the path that they decided you should take.
Good luck giving feedback to a micromanager. They will tell you what you did wrong in the conversation and why you should have done it their way.
These people like to preen and hog the spotlight. Status means a lot to them, and they believe they are indispensable. The self-absorbed claim credit for the work of others because they honestly think they did it themselves. They take a slide deck you worked on for weeks and slap their name on it before it goes up the chain.
They shed blame because they cannot fathom anyone as brilliant as themself can make a mistake. Your advice bounces right off their forehead because who are you to give advice? Your reluctance to embrace their ideas is yet another example of your inherent and unspoken inferiority.
The self-absorbed leader is obsequious when walking the CEO through your department but won’t introduce you even if you’re standing three feet away. He sets rules for the team he won’t follow himself. When work needs doing on a Saturday, expect to see everyone at the office except him because he had a tee time he could not change. When he sees you on Monday, he’ll brag he shot a seventy-nine and won’t even ask about the project you worked on all weekend.
This person flirts with your partner at company events, is the first in line when lunch is brought in, and will elbow you out of the way during a fire drill.
Good luck giving advice to the self-absorbed leader. They are too busy admiring themselves in the mirror.
3. Poor Listening
We all want to perform at work, and we like a measure of independence. We also expect the boss to pay attention to the things we do and respond when we need help. It’s frustrating to need to reeducate the boss on something discussed several times prior.
Worse, when an issue you warned about blows up or a deadline is busted despite your best efforts, you must find a clever and career-preserving way of saying, “Boss, I told you so.”
Poor listening manifests itself in a physical way. You are interacting with your supervisor while she reads through her email or scrolls through her phone. Maybe you think you have your boss’s attention, but she is too busy framing her response to you in her mind while you’re speaking. You can see you’re being ignored. At some point, she loses all interest in you and doesn’t even try to hide it. You walk out of her office with only half the things on your list addressed.
Good luck giving feedback to a poor listener. Because, well . . . they don’t listen.
An invisible leader is simply not there physically or mentally. These folks may be bored, burnt out, retired in place, or looking for another job. Invisible leaders captain drifting ships. Employees need and want direction when things go well and more so when things come off the rails.
Your emails to this person pile up, and you must now yap like a hungry terrier to move things. Information dribbles to employees with an invisible leader like the last ounce of ketchup from the jar. Better be plugged into the grapevine so you’ll know what’s going on in the company. You’re not getting any news from this person.
Good luck asking these people for even a grain of guidance. You won’t be able to find them.
An indecisive leader waits for perfect conditions before they move—and things will never be perfect. She wants more data, even if the data is of marginal value and not material to the decision. Continuity and accomplishment wane as priorities constantly shift. The indecision leads to missed opportunities for the organization and the people who work for it.
Did you develop a great plan to solve a big problem or roll out a new program or product? You’ll scramble at the last minute with an indecisive leader, and the results you hoped for will fall short of your standards. The last person to talk to an indecisive leader on a controversial topic often has the most influence.
Weak performers love indecisive leaders because they let them take advantage. Strong performers move on.
Good luck with an indecisive leader. You’re going to have a constant ache from beating your head against a wall.
5 Effective Leadership Behaviors
And now for the positive characteristics of a leader. Commit these to memory.
A good leader delegates. They focus more on outcomes than processes, more on achievement than activity. They understand doing something differently is not the same as doing something wrong. Good delegators develop an intuition for who on the team can be trusted to do what and when. They set up clear checkpoints on a project or task and let their team go.
Think about how energizing it is when your boss gives you meaty task or assignment—it is so gratifying to know you have been trusted to deliver for them or for your team. Being given room to run and be creative is one of the most inherently rewarding aspects of going to work.
2. Active Listening
Attention is the most important thing a leader can offer. Good listeners create a positive environment by removing distractions and physically demonstrating presence in the moment. They turn away from their computer and rotate their phones upside down when speaking with someone. They know they’re fooling no one when surfing the internet while on a Zoom or conference call.
They don’t offer an opinion too early in an important discussion because they know they’ll tilt the outcome. They ask open-ended questions and reframe what they heard. A good listener summarizes the conversation when done to avoid confusion about next steps.
Decision-makers have a process that works for them. They don’t leap, but they don’t delay. They collect all pertinent information, engage all appropriate audiences, and screen the decision against their experience and intuition. Then they go.
Decisiveness eliminates ambiguity and promotes productivity. The energy saved from rehashing the same topic or regaining a consensus can be put against the task at hand.
Pay and benefits are a critical part of the work contract. Yet it’s interesting how rarely we think about them. Studies show they quickly lose their power to motivate. It’s doubtful you think about your paycheck on the way to work or during crunch time on a project. We usually do our best work when committed to a place where we feel valued.
Think back to a time you received praise for a job well done. It felt so good you easily remembered it. You just proved how powerful recognition can be. A good leader knows when and how to call out good performance.
Keeping up with your email, while admirable, is not leadership. A good manager is visible to all the areas they lead. They know the people who work for them can be tentative about entering their office domain, so they relieve them of this stress by going to theirs. They vary the locations of standing meetings. A visible leader walks through the workspace to be social and to simply say hello. They make eye contact and use a bit of humor to keep things light.
A boss who is in a good mood and genuinely interested in people turns the workplace into a community.
There you go. This is most of what you need to know to be seen as a strong leader. When you catch yourself doing something you now know is ineffective, stop. Then, put some effort into developing the positive behaviors your team will appreciate. Don’t overthink this.
Remember, everyone has the potential to maximize their leadership potential.
Kevin Salcido was the vice president and chief human resources officer at Arizona State University.
Salcido has been a human resources leader for over thirty years. Early in his career, he had a senior personnel role with a major retail chain in Phoenix and spent time as the Southwest region HR manager for the Pepsi-Cola Company, a division of PepsiCo. Salcido then became the vice president of HR at Central Newspapers Inc.; a media and information company that operated seven daily newspapers include theArizona Republic and theIndianapolis Star. Salcido was then senior director of labor and employee relations and leadership and workforce development at Arizona Public Service before joining ASU in 2007.
Salcido’s major areas of interest include employee and labor relations, organizational development, building performance-based cultures, creating inclusive work environments, and leadership coaching.
He is also the author of the book Your Afternoon Mentor. He holds a BS in Justice Studies and an MBA from Arizona State University.
Salcido’s nonprofessional interests include travel, hiking, rafting, golfing, and anything else outdoor-related. He is also a licensed private pilot. He lives in his native Phoenix with his wife, Toni.