As someone who’s been in the workforce for a while, I’ve seen and had so many different kinds of leaders.
I’ve had really strict and authoritarian types – the ones who demand unquestioning obedience and complete control over every single thing. Not exactly a fun time.
On the other hand, I’ve also had leaders who were terrific motivators. For some reason, they just naturally seemed to inspire and encourage me, and I always ended up doing my best. And liking it!
Which leads me to ask this question: Are great leaders born? Or made?
I’ve come to believe it’s a bit of both. Great leaders might have a natural knack for leadership indeed, but they also have the drive to learn and improve.
More importantly, they have the discipline to cut out these nine behaviors.
Who hasn’t heard of a micromanaging boss? I’ve had a major micromanager at a previous job, and I absolutely came to loathe him.
At first, I appreciated the guidance and the hand-holding. But eventually, once I got the hang of it, I was ready to let go and flex my chops.
Unfortunately, my micromanaging boss didn’t feel the same way. He just couldn’t let go of control and give me the space to grow.
Look, it’s one thing to give an employee guidance, but to be constantly looking over their shoulder? It’s a surefire way to drain them of creativity and motivation.
When you micromanage, you’re basically telling your team that you don’t trust them to get the job done. This can erode morale and create a toxic work environment.
That’s exactly what happened to me, and it came to a point where I wondered (using my inside voice), “Why did you even hire me then?”
2) Being overly critical
This is closely connected to micromanaging. If you’re always pointing out what’s wrong without offering praise, you’re eventually going to wear down your team’s spirit.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to say you should stop giving your team feedback. But there needs to be a balance.
Research shows that the poor use of criticism is one of the top causes of conflict in the workplace. What’s more, it never results in better job performance.
On the contrary, getting constantly criticized just makes us tense, angry, and demoralized. It might even lead to us just not trying our best because we no longer feel capable of doing our work well.
Extremely damaging, isn’t it?
So, what’s the best approach to giving criticism? Well, according to Michigan State University psychologist Daniel Ilgen, “people respond well to criticisms that are specific, prompt, and delivered in a considerate manner.”
And as I mentioned earlier, it’s all about balance. Don’t forget to point out something positive. People need to know what they’re doing right just as much as what they’re doing wrong.
That said, don’t go to the opposite end and do this next thing…
3) Avoiding tough decisions and unpleasant news
As a leader, you can’t please everyone all the time. As Spiderman realized, with great power comes great responsibility.
That includes making tough calls for the greater good.
For instance, you might have a constantly underperforming but well-liked employee who has resisted all previous attempts to help him improve.
Keeping on an employee like that for the sake of being seen as a magnanimous leader won’t do you any favors. It can just make you appear weak or indecisive.
Stepping up and making those challenging decisions – even when they’re unpopular – gains you respect.
4) Poor listening
What about listening skills? Are they really as valuable as they make it out to be?
If you want to be a great leader, absolutely. Great leaders value the input of the people they’re leading.
One of the best bosses I had understood this so well. Instead of always dominating conversations or having a “my way or the highway” attitude, she always asked us about our thoughts and opinions.
She encouraged us to speak up – certainly a breath of fresh air after all the controlling bosses I’ve had!
And she didn’t just do it for show. When one of us tossed out an idea worth exploring, she would actually take it on board. It wasn’t uncommon to see our suggestions implemented in future projects or policy changes.
That sort of openness helped grow a culture of mutual respect and collective ownership – power to the people, so to speak.
Plus, a leader who knows how to listen creates a safe space for their team. It makes coming in to work such a pleasant experience when you know you’re valued.
Which brings me to my next point…
5) Being unapproachable
Are you the type of leader that likes sitting away from your crew? Or makes them jump through several hoops before they can speak to you?
It might be time to ditch that mentality. That’s what great leaders do.
Take Richard Branson, for instance. The CEO of Virgin Group is known for being down-to-earth with his employees.
In fact, in an interview with Forbes Magazine, that’s the very first thing that comes up: “Be someone people find it easy to be around.”
When you’re high up the ladder, it can be easy to forget how it feels at the bottom. You can easily get out of touch with the people you’re supposed to lead.
If your team feels like they can’t come to you with problems or ideas, they won’t feel as inspired as you’d like them to be. They’ll feel an invisible barrier – your literal or metaphorical closed door – and see you as unrelatable.
Which then paints a picture of you as someone who doesn’t really see them as people, whether that’s true or not.
And that’s why it’s equally important to ditch this next behavior…
6) Forcing team building
Oh no, not another trust fall. Not another company-mandated weekend retreat…
Many employees cringe at the thought of these attempts at team building. (Shoutout to all my fellow introverts who feel a sense of dread at the words “team building”!)
Personally, I find mandatory team-building so dismissive. It feels like such an imposition as if you’re merely a robot that needs to “get with the program”, whether you like it or not.
But you know what?
While these activities might make some of us roll our eyes, the core idea behind them isn’t all bad.
The goal is to strengthen the bond between team members and get everyone working more efficiently…and pleasantly!
And it doesn’t necessarily have to involve putting employees in an awkward situation and force them to “bond or die trying”.
What great leaders understand is that team spirit is best built organically. There are many ways to do this, such as:
- Encouraging open communication
- Having regular check-ins
- Holding casual Friday lunches
- Celebrating small wins together
This way feels more natural and sustainable – everyone feels comfortable enough to be themselves, and that’s so much more meaningful than any trust fall!
7) Failing to give credit
Another way to keep your team’s morale up is to recognize their efforts.
Too many leaders enjoy the credit for a successful project; it’s a huge ego-booster after all.
But what about the people behind the scene? Do they get acknowledged for their role in it?
I once had a boss who hogged all the credit for himself every time we hit our goals. It didn’t exactly endear him to us – after a while, we just felt disgruntled and unmotivated.
Like, what’s the point of doing your best if you’re never recognized for it? Do you even really make a difference?
If you want to be a great leader, learn to share the glory. It’s not a machine that’s behind your success; it’s a group of living, breathing people who’d love a pat on the back, too!
8) Excessively pressuring your team for results
The pressure for results is a reality in any workplace. And in some cases, it can be a good thing – pressure makes diamonds after all.
But great leaders know that excessive pressure can backfire. It can lead to burnout and poor work performance. What you end up with is a team that’s either in a constant state of stress or outright detachment.
So, if you want to be a great leader, what’s the better way to get results?
- Set realistic goals
- Keep an open dialogue about progress
- Prioritize your team’s well-being (people first!)
- Empower your team members to make decisions
- Make resources and support readily available
- Know when to step in
Basically, it’s all about providing room for growth and empowering people so they can be at their best and churn out quality work. Choose to support, not pressure.
9) Ignoring work-life balance
See how prioritizing your team’s well-being is on the list above? That means, you need to observe work-life balance, not just for yourself, but for your team as well.
It might sound counterproductive to give work a limit, but countless studies have shown that having work-life balance has so many benefits.
There’s lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and more commitment and motivation to work!
So don’t be that boss who sends emails at insane hours and expects immediate replies. Be the one who says, “Hey, you’re entitled to your personal time. Work can wait.”
As you can see, the best leaders are those who understand the art of balance. Because at its core, great leadership is as much about people as it is about the bottom line.
If you want to be one, don’t just focus on the end result. Pay attention to how you get there as well. Are you providing a supportive environment? Do the people under you feel heard and inspired to do their best?
If yes, then you already have what it takes to get from good to great!