Imagine this scenario:
Two years ago, your company was acquired by a global conglomerate. The CEO, recognizing your talents and your tenure, kept you in your leadership role, but you’re now responsible for a department with three times as many employees as before the acquisition. The corporate environment is more competitive than ever, taking a toll on morale. You used to enjoy the company culture, but the new ownership has instituted objectionable policies, and you find yourself questioning how you can survive — let alone lead — under these conditions.
“When faced with widespread chaos, the number one thing you, as a leader, can do is to understand the profound impact you have on your team,” according to Nancy Scheel, an executive coach who runs Jody Michael Associates’ Atlanta office.“Especially during less-than-ideal times, all eyes are on you for guidance and direction,” she explains.
What you do, the things you say and the way you act can dramatically alter the work environment — in either a positive or negative direction.
Managing yourself is key to effective leadership, as Nancy explains to executive coaching clients who find themselves muddling through a seismic corporate shift.
Effective Leadership: Avoid These 5 Common Missteps (and What To Do Instead)
In times of corporate chaos, lapses in leadership can exacerbate an already tense atmosphere — not to mention hinder performance. As a leader, it’s imperative to not only develop self-awareness, but also to fundamentally recognize how you impact your team and company.
Following are common leadership slips, why they aren’t effective — and what you can do instead.
- Leadership lapse: Putting on a good face
Thinking that your team members won’t see past the façade, many leaders attempt to wear a mask of normalcy. While “faking it until you make it” is an effective strategy when you’re trying to boost your self-confidence, it is ill-advised to pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t.
Why it limits leadership: People see past the façade. Your somatic communication — tone of voice, expressions, posture and gestures — sends a stronger message than your words, no matter how carefully crafted.
What to do instead: Effective leadership thrives on authenticity. At the same time, your team relies on your strength. Managing your own mood states is particularly important during challenging times.
2. Leadership lapse: Telling falsely positive “stories”
As a leader, it’s tempting to try to put a positive spin on a negative situation. Sometimes the only way to do that is to say things you don’t really believe.Why it limits leadership: Trying to pull the wool over your team’s eyes when the going gets rough is a recipe for disaster. As Nancy points out, “Sugar-coating a situation is offensive and insulting, and usually creates a divide between you and your team members.”
What to do instead: Be authentic. If you don’t believe it, don’t say it. “Many of our executive coaching clients find themselves having to implement budget cuts that exert pressure on their teams. Rather than telling employees that the cuts are temporary, or that they’ll hardly be noticeable, we recommend that they acknowledge the difficulty of the situation,” Nancy says. “Taking a realistic stance — and, at the same time, offering support — builds trust in you as a leader.”
3. Leadership lapse: Letting your negative mood “leak”
Let’s face it: you may be a leader, but that doesn’t negate your own feelings of frustration. You’re still a human, prone to the same feelings your team might be experiencing — or worse, since you’re at the helm. Griping or whining alongside your team members (“Look, I don’t know what to do either!”) might feel really good, but it isn’t productive.Why it limits leadership: In fact, negativity is contagious — especially when it emanates from a leader. Spreading the victim mentality has the potential to send your entire team down a pessimistic spiral.
What to do instead: In order to lead others, it is imperative to master your own thoughts, which profoundly influence your moods and behaviors. Find a comfortable place of “both/and,” which you can share with employees. You might tell your team, “I know this acquisition was unexpected, throwing a lot of uncertainty into the air … And we still have a job to do. Let’s explore ways to get through this patch, one step at a time.”
4. Leadership lapse: Treading water
Often, as we stall for time, it’s not the stories we tell others, but the stories we tell ourselves that become obstacles.Why it limits leadership: Waiting “until the CEO comes around” or “this economic downturn reverses” can put your own — and your team’s — performance on hold. The more stuck you (or they) feel, the less apt anyone is to move toward a solution.
What to do instead: Accept reality, including its limitations. At the same time, recognize opportunities. Nancy recommends asking yourself questions that will move you and your team forward: What can you do — now, given the circumstances — to manage your performance? What reasonable short-term goals can your team try to achieve to maintain a positive momentum? Despite the corporate chaos, what factors remain within your control?
5. Leadership lapse: Powering through
When the going gets tough, even the toughest leaders can become embattled as they try to power through trying times. Whether it’s working 14-hour days, eating a candy bar for lunch or ignoring physical symptoms of stress, it can be tempting to abandon healthy habits “for the good of the team.”
Why it limits leadership: Neglecting to take care of yourself manifests itself in many ways, affecting both your physical and emotional well-being. When leaders become overwhelmed, they often exhibit uncharacteristic or volatile behavior, have trouble making decisions and/or experience physical symptoms.
What to do instead: Self-care isn’t a negotiable when it comes to effective leadership. From finding ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance to incorporating a mindfulness practice into your routine, leaders need to be proactive in managing their stress and ensuring their overall health.