By Michael Gunther
Many business owners I’ve worked with are often challenged by their employees not performing at the level they expect. These leaders often get frustrated that “nobody does their tasks correctly” or that their employees “aren’t worth the effort.” What I show them is that they can typically improve their employee performance problems by looking inward and making a few adjustments to their leadership strategies.
Leaders, if you are not receiving the outcomes you want from your employees, it’s probably a good time to assess your leadership skills. It is the business owner who clearly understands and accepts both their strengths and weaknesses as leaders, and who have the drive to improve their performance, that achieves the greatest success – both in their business and in their employees’ performance.
As a leader, you create the environment that your employees will emulate. They follow your cues in terms of performing – or not performing. Most employees I speak with actually want to do a good job and care about the success of the companies they work for, but they feel that the leaders are not providing clear direction or clear expectations about what they want accomplished. In addition, the leaders often will not let go of certain tasks or decisions that the employees feel they can handle; these leaders can sometimes be referred to as Micromanagers or Directive Autocrats.
Do either of these scenarios sound familiar?
The Micromanager: You want your employees to make decisions, but when they do, you criticize the decisions they make, correct their mistake, or take the task back. In this scenario, what you are actually telling them is that you don’t trust them to make decisions, and that you’re not willing to provide them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
The Directive Autocrat: You provide some direction on a project, but when the project is complete, it doesn’t meet the outcomes you expected. You criticize the employee’s performance, correct their mistake, or take the task back. In this scenario, what you are actually telling your employee is that it’s not worth their time or energy to take the initiative to take on new projects.
Both situations portray a management quandary, where leaders want better performance from their employees and employees want to perform well for the leader, yet there is disconnect between the two. And the shift has to start with the leaders. You must learn to clearly communicate your expectations and to address employees at the time mistakes are made.
Making mistakes and missing the mark on outcomes are opportunities for both employees and leaders to learn. Years ago, I had a mentor who told me that if I was not making mistakes, then I probably was not making decisions and therefore I was not learning and developing my skills. (Note that this is not the same as if an employee makes the same mistake over and over, and needs to improve their approach or skills.)
Leaders, when your employees make a mistake or are not performing at the level you desire try the leadership approach that my mentor used: ask them a few questions. How could they have approached the task differently? What did they learn from their decision? How could you, as the leader, provide clearer expectations of the desired outcome? The answers to these questions will help you ascertain what was missing in the process (communications, skills, or strategy) and ultimately what prevented the intended outcome from being achieved.
The Bottom Line
Want your team to perform at the levels you desire? Then adjust your leadership style by setting clear expectations and if they are not met, use the opportunity to ask questions and learn what you or your employee can do differently to achieve different results. Building a strong team takes patience, persistence, and clear communication.