With great power comes great responsibility. The mantle of leadership is indeed a huge burden because it comes with the duty of stewardship over others’ growth and well-being. Simon Sinek’s bestselling book, “Leaders Eat Last,” for one, was inspired by the Marine Corps practice of having the most junior Marines eat first. The senior-most officers always ate last. It sent a clear message: a leader’s job is to put people’s needs over and above his or her own.
In the workplace, however, it often plays out the opposite way. For myriad reasons, society and popular culture tend to overemphasise the glamour of leadership while neglecting the responsibilities that come with it.
Indeed, many a time, when employees fall into the quicksand of stagnation, the failure of leadership to kickstart and sustain their growth must bear a large portion of the blame. After all, when a company fails to innovate and engage in continuous improvement in the long-term, the ones who are brought to account first are the leaders.
Irresponsible leadership practices are more common than you may think; here are four of the most popular ones that breed rampant stagnation among employees.
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Bad leaders get bad reps. Absent leaders, though, don’t have reps to begin with. They’re leaders in name and title only, and while you see them come in every day, they don’t behave like leaders at all. They tend to be both unavailable and unapproachable, and needless to say, they don’t provide much guidance to their people. Feedback is a near-fictitious act where the absent leader is concerned.
According to the Harvard Business Review, absent leaders are the absolute worst; surveys indicate the vast majority of complaints that people have of their bosses concern absent leadership styles.
Bad bosses are horrible, but more often than not, they also eventually get themselves into HR’s bad books. Absent leaders, though, tend to go unnoticed, precisely because they don’t seem to much make much of a dent in the first place. The keyword here, though, is “seem.” Studies have shown, for instance, that the negative impact that absent leaders have is a lot more long-lasting than that of bad bosses.
Control-freak bosses are often the bane of employees’ work life. Micromanaged employees are often deeply unhappy; they often feel robbed of their and ownership over their work and sense of autonomy. In essence, they lose one of the three pillars of motivation, according to New York Times bestsellling author Daniel Pink.
Worse, it creates an atmosphere of distrust between employee and employer; when the latter is constantly dictating how the former should do her work, it sends the message that they can’t be trusted to do their job properly. In the long run, the lesser the sense of ownership that people feel over their work, the less engaged, motivated, and productive they tend to be.
If the training wheels never come off, you’ll never learn to cycle. It doesn’t matter if you have the best coach ever on your side. Similarly, good leaders don’t get in their people’s way. They don’t act like permanent crutches: always there, but also seriously impairing the patient’s long-term ability to walk and run.
When leaders readily provide all the answers their people need, it may seem to indicate dedication to the leadership role. Ultimately, though, it’s a misplaced commitment; spoon-feeding is highly counterproductive to the development of excellent critical thinking skills.
The more people feel like their boss will always be there to catch them, the less incentive they have to think innovatively about how to do their jobs better.
Enthusiasm may be infectious, but disinterest can also be extremely contagious. Leaders set the tone and direction for their people in so many different ways; people tend to take their cue from their superiors.
A leader who demonstrates genuine empathy and concern for his people will engender a growth-minded spirit in his people. Conversely, a leader who comes across as jaded and unenthusiastic about her work will dampen team morale as well.
In this regard, the role of leadership in sparking and sustaining employee engagement cannot be understated; they set a precedent for the rest to follow suit. If a leader is disengaged from the process of continuous improvement, her subordinates often also develop hands-off attitudes towards work.