3 Ways Ego-Driven Leadership Ruins Teams

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Eight years before I found myself in HR, teaching others about leadership development, I was stuck in a tricky situation with my manager. He was a director, but in the company I worked for, that was as good as having “chief” in front of your title. And he loved it.

We could tell by the way he carried himself. The people he chose to talk to. What he said in meetings and how he participated (read: didn’t participate) in team functions.

He was an ego-driven leader. He relished having the highest title in the building, used his power to push his own agenda, and judged every one he worked with by their job title.

I left that job after a year under his leadership, and in the following months, many of my colleagues did too. Because ego-driven leaders ruin teams.

They lead from intimidation and fear. Ego-driven leaders care most about the power that comes from their position or title. They crave being right and they love the spotlight. They prefer to give orders (which means they get to speak up the most in meetings) instead of promoting collaboration (which means they might not speak at all in a meeting, and then how will anyone know they’re in charge?) and taking a backseat to the team. Eventually the team stops sharing ideas because they don’t feel safe enough to share or have been conditioned to think that their ideas just aren’t good enough.

They stall growth and development. Great teams develop their people, but ego-driven leaders don’t think about development of others because they have an “I” perspective. They primarily only think about themselves, which means they approach conversations with a What do I need? What do I want? mindset instead of a How can I help you? What do you need more of/less of from me to be successful? mindset. When a leader isn’t focused on the team and its growth, employees eventually get frustrated because they realize their career path has stalled, take charge of their own development, and then leave.

They don’t speak up for the right things. These leaders care more about themselves than the success of the team or company and make decisions to further their personal agenda. They bring bias to talent programs like succession planning and performance reviews and they choose the wrong high potential employees because they of how they feel personally about each employee on the team. Rarely do they give shoutouts because speaking up to give recognition means they aren’t the one being noticed.

Ego-driven leaders manage simultaneously from a place of power and fear. They’re detrimental to team effectiveness and undermine the company mission that unites employees behind a common goal. And what’s worse, they create more ego-driven leaders because the people they promote emulate their behavior, thinking that’s the only way to get ahead and be noticed. Yikes.

Avoiding the Quiet Trap of Appreciation Depletion

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Thanks to Business Management Daily for featuring me in the below article. Original transcript can be found here: https://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/51991/avoiding-the-quiet-trap-of-appreciation-depletion. 

When we watch a puppy push its head forward eagerly at the promise of being scratched by a caring hand, guess what? We're watching ourselves. Walking around in a $400 suit doesn't make us want that gentle head scratch any less.

"Most teams out there are experiencing 'appreciation depletion,'" said Tess Ausman, speaker and CEO of CLT Leads, to a webinar audience recently. "The reason it happens is that we all get so caught up in our routine that we run on auto-pilot. When that occurs, we de-prioritize recognizing and appreciating others.

"Here's how I see it manifested every day with teams: Forgetting to say 'thank you.' Not sending informal shout-outs. Not writing grateful emails or notes. We forget to do these things because we figure  employees already know we appreciate them.

"Let me show you the effect of appreciation depletion," Ausman continued.

"In the beginning, your employee internalizes a lack of appreciation as basically … nothing. It doesn't really matter to them. 'Oh, it's okay that he didn't recognize that I stayed up late to work on this project, or answer emails on my vacation. Hey, he's got a lot on his plate. We're not here to win awards, we're here to get things done.'

"But then, little by little, it starts to eat at them. That neutrality is not a sustainable feeling. It leads to denial: 'I really wish she would say thank you once a while … and that kind of bothers me.' As they think these words, they don't believe it's going to go on forever, or that the oversights are truly getting under their skin.

"The longer this denial is allowed to fester, the greater chance of the employee falling into the dreaded valley of despair. This is where the dark thoughts enter their minds, and start to get shared with their co-workers and loved ones at home. 'I don't matter … my work doesn't matter … the boss doesn't care about what I do.'

"'Nor do I understand anymore,' the employee thinks, 'how my work is connected to the success of the company. The only thing my manager cares about is me showing up on time.'

"Giving feedback takes the employee out of this valley and gets them up to an exploration mindset, in which they see the light at the end of the tunnel and actively seek ways to feel content at work again; they've gotten that energy back. Finally, it leads them to a real commitment to us. But without continuous feedback, they'll slide right back down into the valley.

"But wait … you might think I'm just talking about praise. Not true. Let's look at the difference between praise and positive feedback.

"Positive feedback: 'Hey Tess, when you showed up to the meeting early with a copy of the agenda for everybody, and a very clear set of next steps, we were not only impressed, it allowed us to make three critical decisions that will impact our go-live date. Thank you for always being so focused on preparedness and details.'

"Praise: 'Hey Tess, great job on yesterday's meeting!'

"And Tess thinks, 'Why? Because I had a nice shirt on? Because I spoke clearly?'

"Praise will briefly get someone out of the valley of despair, no question. But it won't always keep them from sliding back into it. Share specific behavior, and connect it to impact."

"Give this feedback verbally, by all means, but you get more bang for the buck if you write it down. Then the person reads it … and reads it again … and again. How many of you save great emails or handwritten cards you get? I have a folder of them.

"Someone who works for you should have one too."

The Easiest Way to Not be a Jerk in Meetings

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

What sets you off? Frustrates you? Clouds your vision so much that what you know you should do goes out the window and subconscious reactions kick in?

We all have triggers and they bring out the worst in us at work because triggers are the things that make us feel ignored. Undervalued. Unappreciated. Sometimes they go deeper and hit at our core, and then we feel shame, worthlessness, guilt. 

Naming our triggers is critical to professional growth.

I know mine. It's taken years to figure them out + be humble enough to accept that this is who I am and these triggers have an impact on how I behave. They are:

  • Being excluded from a decision
  • Having my intelligence challenged
  • Feeling left out

By knowing our triggers, we can shut off negative responses at the source, because we're able to label exactly what is wrong. Instead of snapping at someone or ignoring them (my two most common reactions when I am triggered), when I feel the urge to behave that way, I take a few seconds to identify WHY.

And the answer is always that I've been triggered. 

Which usually means I'm feeling that someone isn't listening to me or respecting my intelligence, but sometimes I have to admit that I'm feeling left out and want to take it out on the other person. 

The danger is that most people don't know (or won't accept) their triggers.

I see it daily, and here's what it looks like: 

  • Shutting down in a meeting, refusing to say anything else because the group isn't listening
  • Pushing for ideas too hard and purposely causing friction and calling others out in order to not be seen as the one who messed up
  • Not answering emails on purpose because of the fear that the answer is wrong
  • Interrupting and challenging everyone in a meeting because that's equated with being the smartest or most important

Understanding your triggers takes a combination of maturity and humility. And it starts with this question: What are my self-doubts? When do I feel at my lowest?

Another indicator is your personality style. I love the DISC assessment, because it's easy to interpret and put into action. And knowing what quadrant you're in gives insight into the behaviors that could set you off (so if you're struggling to peel away the layers of your personality and the baggage of life because it feels too scary, start with DISC).

Self-awareness is critical to professional growth. It's also critical to keeping yourself from flying off the handle andbeing a jerk and calling your boss a crazy person in the next team meeting. Because I can guarantee that won't help you grow professionally either.

 

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Tess Ausman is the founder of CLT Leads, LLC, a virtual leadership development company that transforms overachieving young professionals into confident, self-aware leaders. She is passionate about the soft skills that it takes to grow a career: self-awareness, empathy, and a healthy dose of humilty. Check her out at www.instagram.com/thecltleads too.

The Major Thing Successful Leaders Do Differently

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Have you ever worked for someone who should have had caution tape wrapped around them so everyone would know they were a predator? The attacks were subtle. Would it be today's "casual" desk drive by or tomorrow's passive aggressive email? 

You never knew when it would happen so your guard was always up. That means you second guessed their intentions and toed the line between wanting to trust them but knowing you couldn't. You worked in fear, scared to make a wrong move because you never knew when they would pounce.

It's because that manager valued results over people.

Leaders who come from the mindset of "as long as we're getting results does it matter how it's being accomplished?" treat their people like prey.

Leaders who come from the mindset of "if I put my people first the results will follow" are much more successful. Because the same qualities that it takes to put people first - humility, empathy, integrity - are the same ones that make results happen. Really. And here's what they look like. 

Successful leaders know that unwritten rules can destroy a team's culture. All teams have unwritten rules that govern how they treat each other. Here are two I see all the time: responding to emails in the middle of the night so everyone thinks they should be doing it too and using BCC in an email chain to passively call someone out. These unwritten rules (aka: it's expected that you work all the time and it's okay to throw each other under the bus) make employees feel like prey. Which means they aren't doing their best work because they don't feel trusted and valued. 

They also give feedback in manageable chunks. Successful leaders (vs. managers who see their team as another item on the to do list) give feedback (positive and constructive!) in the moment. They don't save it all for performance review time. They don't save it all for performance review time. They consistently share the great things that are happening and hold their people accountable for changing behaviors that aren't working. In a nice way. Because when they give constructive feedback, it's not tied to a bonus or year-end review score. It's coming from the heart.

And they say thank you. All the time.  And in different ways, like sending emails, bringing something special to a weekly team meeting (Oh yeah! They do this too!), leaving everyone's favorite snack on their desk, telling everyone to go home early on a Friday, and making personal development a priority.

Put people first and the results follow. Successful leaders know this works and stand out from the crowd because it's not the norm to see managers prioritizing their people and team culture above results and metrics and money. But it's the right thing to do. 

The Best Personal Development Lesson I Ever Learned

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I started my career in public education. There was barely enough money for supplies for my high school classroom, and even though it was the dawn of the age of computers in education, I had an overhead projector instead of being able to project my computer. One year I had 35 students in a rectangular, single-wide trailer (aka my classroom). Picture sardines using pencils. Heaven help anyone who needed to get to the door for a bathroom break.

When I changed course and started working in HR, I found myself in the world of discount retail. We were a small team that wore multiple hats. We developed our own leadership training and talent development programs (when you work in discount retail you cultivate a "do it yourself" mindset pretty quickly). We would walk to the ice cream shop next door for "team building" and started a book club to learn more about leadership development because there wasn't money to go to conferences or join professional organizations.

And though I'm sure it would have been nice to spend my career working at places where we had all the money to do all the things ...

.... maybe it actually wouldn't have been that great.

Because one of the best things my career has taught me is how to be resourceful.

It's an inner resourcefulness - attitude, determination, innovation, courage - that has transformed how I show up at work each day.

Resourcefulness taught me self-reliance. Not enough money to pay a consultant to come in and create a high potential development program? I'll teach myself. I'll read all the free articles that the Harvard Business Review will allow, reach out to connections on LinkedIn who are running successful programs, and read the whole internet until I find published agendas from other HiPo programs around the world. And guess what? It worked.

It also taught me to be proactive. It never occurred to put my dreams and goals for my students on hold just because there wasn't money. When I wanted a new resource for my classroom, I researched until I figured out how to make it myself or found a similar free version that I could modify to meet my needs. If I couldn't make it, I built a case and didn't stop trying to convince others, even when I heard "It's not in the budget this year." I learned to believe that I was resourceful enough, I could make anything work, and to never let an obstacle defeat me.

And over time I became more creative. When you're resourceful, you have to think outside the box. I'm highly organized, a critical thinker, and an excellent list writer (if list writing competitions were a thing I'd medal for sure), and because of that, in the beginning of my career I struggled with anything requiring creativity and innovation. But after years of working on this muscle - after forcing myself to imagine crazy possibilities in addition to the practical ones because it was the only way I was going to get what I wanted - I became better at it.

The more I used these muscles, the stronger they became. I found myself with the courage to start my own business even though I had zero capital and no marketing knowledge. I took on talent planning for a new organization without ever actually having done it on my own. I taught myself how to use instructional design programs (can I get an amen for YouTube tutorials and free trials?) that would improve my skill set and make me more marketable.

Simply put, I started believing I could do anything.

This is Why Your Colleagues Disappoint You

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When my husband and I were in college we were given advice that instantly changed the perspective on our relationship. We were talking to an acquaintance and sharing our journey about being friends, and how we weren't sure if our relationship could ever go beyond that.

His advice went something like this: The root of any good relationship is expectations. When you find yourselves frustrated or feeling like the other doesn't care, it's because your expectations aren't aligned. When you don't share them, you will disappoint each other. Always communicate your expectations. If you hold them in or assume the other one knows, you'll struggle to be happy.

This conversation was 10 years ago and we still reference it.

Since then I've started a career in organizational development and launched my own business and worked with countless young professionals and managers, coaching them through situations and frustrations that they were experiencing because of …

Expectations.

We walk into meetings expecting a certain outcome. We send an email expecting a specific response. We share our work with others expecting a particular reaction. And when we don't get what we expect in return, we get frustrated and angry.

We don't share our expectations up front, but then we take it personally when they aren't met.

Being mindful about what we expect and aligning our expectations with reality are critical when it comes to alleviating the disappoint we often feel at work. Here are a few other tips:

Pinpoint the issue. Many times we get frustrated over a symptom and not the actual problem. Feeling angry toward a coworker who never answers your emails the way you expect? If you drill down and explore your feelings, it's probably not actually about the email. It's that you don't feel respected. This awareness changes your perspective and turns the issue into something you maybe you don't even need to address.

Admit that you could be the problem. I'm guilty of running on auto pilot all day and never stopping to think about what I might be doing wrong when someone else is driving me crazy. When I do, I usually find that I could have done a better job of sharing my expectations up front. Simply saying "I want to be sure we keep each other updated when we take on new issues with the system, so I'm going to email you every day to share what I'm working on. Will you do the same?" prevents nasty feelings from coming out when I send my updates but never hear a response.

Communicate. We think about what we want others to do but rarely share it. Make it a point to directly share your expectations, whether it's how you expect someone to keep you updated or how something should be done. It's unfair to expect others to read your mind and then be angry when they don't. Saying "What I'd like to see happen is …" can be a great way to get comfortable sharing, and to be sure you come across as collaborative and not overly direct, follow that statement up with "What do you think?" to give the other person a chance to respond.

Expectations are the root cause of the disappointments we feel and simply keeping this in mind can have a huge impact on our happiness at work. And in life.

I Coached Them. But It Didn't Work.

You've been coaching an employee and it's not working.

You say things like:

We've been over and over this and she still isn't improving. I thought he understood but a week after our conversation he's still doing the same thing.

What if I shared that the coaching conversation itself isn't actually going to change anything?

 It's just the starting line.

Recently I was working with a manager who was frustrated that his employees would say "I understand" at the end of a coaching conversation but then go back to their desk and keep doing the same thing.

"Do you ask them to restate, in their own words, what they're going to do differently?"

Step 1: During a coaching conversation, the other person should restate what they see as the behavior change they will make. By doing this, they are reframing and rewording what they've heard you say. This is one way it begins to stick.

After a coaching conversation, many managers assume that's all that needs to be done. I mean, we're both adults, right? We talk about it, we agree that change needs to happen, then you go out and do it because that's my expectation.

Umm …. but we're humans too.

So that makes it messy. There are competing priorities. We forget the conversation even happened once we leave work because our personal life takes over. We don't really want to change, so we wait to see if we're going to be held accountable.

 Step 2: After a coaching conversation, follow up regularly. Ask probing questions that encourage the other person to share feelings and thoughts. Asking "where do you think you're struggling?" or "how are you feeling about xxx" or "where do you think you've made progress?" creates meaningful conversation that reinforces the behavior you're expecting and provides a chance to process information differently. Answering these questions takes analysis and evaluation, which means the brain has to draw connections and justify decisions.

Ok done. We've talked about it. I've followed up daily for a week. Surely that's enough effort. I mean, I have a day job and I'm spending too much time on this. 

It can stop here, but the behavior change won't stick. It might stick - for a few weeks, until the next performance conversation, maybe even through that big project the team is working on. But at some point, that person will fall back into their old ways, because they never made it to the most critical part of learning - creation.

Step 3: For as long as it takes, offer support until they are creating new knowledge independently. This could look like:

  •  Coming up with new ideas: You've coached Mark on improving how personable he is with new clients, and without being asked he decides to ask a colleague to help him come up with easy conversation openers and schedules a monthly brainstorm meeting with them.
  • Teaching someone else how to do what they've done. You've coached Sarah on how to manage email more efficiently and after she figures out how to use the rules feature in Outlook, she volunteers to teach the team.

Coaching to achieve true behavior change is tough. It takes thought, effort and follow up. It takes optimism and persistence to see the process through. It takes time. Time that we don't think we have, but then we're back at the starting line, having yet another conversation about the same behavior. Which takes more time.

 And more complaining.

3 Easy Ways to Make Performance Reviews Less Painful

The dreaded performance review. A 20th century tool being used to measure 21st century skills. How can a conversation that happens 1-2 times a year measure creativity, innovation, risk-taking, or collaboration?

It can't.

But many of us are stuck with them because change is hard and feels scary and oh my gosh how will the company measure and reward people without performance reviews?

Most of us are going to be stuck with a formalized performance review process for the foreseeable future. But we don't have to use a 20th century approach to completing them.

  1. Old approach: Save up feedback and share it all during the review // New approach: Give feedback consistently in 1:1 meetings and use the review as a summary. I strongly believe that performance reviews should be 100% no surprises. Nothing new. Nada. Not a single constructive comment (or even positive feedback because managers should be telling their employees all the time what makes them awesome) that the employee hasn't heard before. One way to achieve this is to have regular 1:1 meetings throughout the review period. Most people feel uncomfortable giving constructive feedback. A 1:1 meeting can provide a platform for the manager to deliver feedback so that it feels less daunting. The alternative is that without this platform, most managers will save up all of their feedback and only give it at the performance review.
  2. Old approach: Write a novel using as many big words as possible // New approach: Solicit feedback from colleagues and incorporate it into the review. Ask the employee to choose 8-10 colleagues (from a variety of levels and departments). Then, send one email to that group (BCC everyone - this is one case where BCC is appropriate) asking two questions: What are this person's greatest strengths? What are their greatest areas of opportunity? Use this feedback (anonymously) in the review to create a more well-rounded and beneficial conversation. If you've been giving feedback regularly, the areas of opportunity that emerge won't be new information.
  3. Old approach: Schedule the review conversation in a conference room and don't talk about it until the meeting happens // New approach: Be open and transparent. Reviews are nerve-wracking. Know what's even worse? Having the meeting pop-up on your calendar and then pretending it isn't there because your manager isn't saying anything about it. Reviews aren't secret. Ask your employee when they want to have the conversation instead of scheduling it at the end of the day (who wouldn't read into that and immediately think the conversation is going to be bad?!). A few days before the conversation, tell them you're looking forward to talking about all of the great things they've done during the review period and are committed to the conversation feeling open and positive. Reassure them you're not going to surprise them with anything new.

If we have to continue to use performance reviews as a measurement of success, let's all agree to start calling them Performance Summaries. The phrase changes our mindset and approach to the process and makes it easier for everyone to endure.

The Struggle is Real

Four years ago I became a mom. I had changed only a handful of diapers in my life and was never a babysitter growing up, but I thought for sure that motherhood was going to be easy, that I would quickly learn how to feed, bathe and change my daughter and then everything would be smooth sailing.

Ha.

The first four months of my daughter's life found us parenting a baby with colic and acid reflux. This meant she cried every time she ate, every time she was uncomfortable, every time she felt like it (so, 5+ hours a day for roughly 120 days). And suddenly I was forced to learn an entirely new set of skills that I had rarely ever practiced before, both personally or professionally (truthfully I thought I was already good at them):

Flexibility. Patience. Not always being right.

The crying was brutal. Just when I thought I'd mastered the "thing" to make her stop , it would stop working. The different reflux treatments we tried each took time to gauge its effectiveness - there wasn't one single thing that immediately made a difference - because babies aren't robots and there isn't a one size fits all solution (try telling that to a sleep deprived mom who is barely eating or showering).

My over-achieving, A player, smarty pants personality could barely handle it. I was wrong often. Forced to be flexible, bending to her needs every hour, giving up plans with friends to stay home. Patiently waiting out the crying. Patiently waiting for the new medicine to show results.

And isn't this just like being a manager for the first time? We promote employees to lead others because they seemingly have it all together. They know the subject matter and get great results, so because of that, they'll be great at managing, right? Read a few books, ask for advice from a few trusted sources ... the rest will be easy.

That's certainly what I thought about motherhood.

Managing people requires flexibility. Patience. Not always being right. And new managers have a hard time with that. Weren't they promoted for always being right? Taking charge and fixing things? Suddenly they're being asked to step back and get results through others. That's tough on the ego if you've been the one doing all the things and getting all the results for your entire career.

Without a good leader to emulate and a mentor to coach and develop, most new managers find themselves in the same situation as motherhood found me: forced to learn new skills in the moment and pushing back on the self-awareness that inside was telling me to "slow down, be flexible, have patience, try again."

We promote employees who are good at their jobs, rarely wondering if they're good with people. Yet we're surprised when they are miserable and the team starts complaining about being micro-managed or not managed enough.

No one is surprised when a first time mom admits she is struggling, so why are we surprised when a first time manager admits it? The assumption is that the employee, having had the magic wand of promotion waved over them, will suddenly know how to manage people. Schedule a 1:1 (aka learn how to feed and change the baby) and everything else falls into place.

I realized I needed a huge support system (still do) when I became a mom four years ago, but it took me months of misery to put my ego aside and reach out for help. It's a guarantee that the same thing is happening to new managers. The only difference is they're probably showering every day.

Can a Bad Manager Be Saved?

People leave people, not companies, right?

We're in an epidemic of low engagement (I like to call this "The Working Dead") and no matter how many perks a company offers, employees are still unhappy.

Managers make or break an employee.

Think about it.

A good manager develops and grows people. Listens. Understands everyone's values, gives autonomy and purpose (If you haven't read Drive by Dan Pink stop what you're doing and immediately go buy it), and provides regular feedback that comes from a place of good intentions.

A bad manager can't be trusted, puts the team last, is selfish. Doesn't provide regular feedback, set goals, or share information. Gossips. Acts passive-aggressively and quite possibly also has low integrity. (Having any one of these characteristics is a problem; count yourself lucky if you've worked for someone who had them all!)

When I find someone who has a bad manager (which I'm defining as a boss who has many of the qualities above or additional ones I didn't list - not just a few that can be overlooked) we start our coaching sessions by first looking within and seeing what changes can be made that might impact the manager's behavior. For example:

  • Are you taking things too personally?
  • How are you setting yourself up for success? Are you giving your manager a reason to do <insert behavior here>?
  • Are you always assuming the worst? Too much of a pessimist?

When someone has a bad manager this helps for a little while, but since it's a band-aid and treats the symptom (the employee's behavior), instead of getting to the root of the problem (the manager), the results aren't sustained. And that's the moment of truth:

Can you give your boss this feedback, and if so will it change his or her behaviors?

Yes! Pass go, collect your $200, jump for joy. This means the manager has self-awareness and high emotional intelligence. Which means he's willing to listen, empathize with what you're saying, and won't be offended.

No. It's a lost cause. If you can't talk it out for fear of being reprimanded or because she is so clueless that she won't take the feedback seriously, it's time to move on.

A bad manager can only be saved if there is high emotional intelligence, of which two components are empathy and self-awareness. These characteristics are the foundation of everything that comes next (continuous feedback, a support system, good leaders to emulate). Without these, it's a lost cause.