Over the years, I’ve delved into the leadership literature, interviewed countless employees, and collected hundreds of survey responses to answer one simple question: What are the top mistakes leaders in the workplace make more frequently than others?
Some of the findings aren’t surprising. As more individual contributors–people without the proper human leadership attributes of caring, compassion, respect, and service to others–are promoted into senior management roles, the crisis of employee engagement will maintain its course.
I’m breaking down what I continue to see as five of the most common themes of toxic leadership. Or, if you prefer, five of the biggest mistakes leaders will make that cause people to eventually jump ship.
Bosses who dominate people, decisions, and processes, lead by fear, and lack vision make this the top reason by far. As I have written in the past, micromanaging ultimately derails your team’s motivation and creativity.
2. Gigantic egos.
Hubris is the cause of much conflict, and the pressure to please impossible, know-it-all bosses who think they have the best ideas and information, and use it to wield power or control, will suck the life out of people and destroy morale.
3. Utter failure to listen.
We’re not talking about the inability to hear the message but the inability to actively listen to what team members are saying, and act on the listening. This lack of active and respectful listening and two-way communication–sending without receiving–is a clear shortcoming for many bosses with low emotional intelligence.
4. Not caring about people.
In essence, it’s a boss who believes anyone is replaceable and sees employees as cogs rather than worthy colleagues to be treated like business partners in producing excellence. It’s a boss who has no capacity for valuing people’s unique strengths and investing in their development.
5. Not asking for feedback or including people in decisions.
Bosses commonly fail to tap into frontline intelligence. Since customer-facing employees are more intimately acquainted with and knowledgeable about what’s going on, it would behoove bosses to gain an inside edge by coming to employees first for input, buy-in, advice, and strategy. This fosters a culture of trust, questioning, and creativity, where followers feel safe enough to contribute ideas and share concerns that have value and can help resolve situations.
To be fair, most bosses who are the subject of these themes are humans too, and not out to deliberately destroy the lives of their followers. They are community leaders, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and have families to feed like the rest of us. Yes, they should be treated with grace and, most importantly, be empowered to perform well and succeed as a leader with proper development, encouragement, and accountability.