There are four common triggers I regularly see playing out in the workplace. Yes, there are plenty of others, but these four are prevalent.
- Ineffective Communication
- Ego Protection
- Fear of Uncertainty
- Rewarding Off Purpose
You can probably cite many examples of these triggers from your organization. To be clear, that’s a problem. Those with positional authority can either minimize or exacerbate each of these issues, but they cannot ignore them and still consider themselves a leader because each of these four triggers requires attention. Otherwise, the dysfunction will grow and become entrenched, and that serves no one.
Ineffective Communication – First, it is very unlikely you are communicating enough. You might think you are, but it takes frequent repetition to get through, not volume. Second, if your leadership style is not matching the situational needs, you are not helping, you’re hurting.
What to do: Constantly work on your communication style. Be clear about your intent and offer the right amount of direction, coaching, support, or delegation as needs change.
Ego Protection – I have long-held the belief that the top and bottom of organizations mostly ‘get it’. One is closest to the voice of the client, and the other has the best perspective for setting the vision. Unfortunately, the vast middle tends to dilute the messaging between the two. It’s like the parent caught between the needs of the child and grandparent simultaneously. It can be stressful. However, instead of concentrating on the customer or implementing the vision, the middle, more often than not, focus on protecting their ego. They get involved in office politics, backstabbing, undermining, self-promotion and spin. All to look good, so they can get the next promotion, or hang on for the golden handcuffs, because they have mortgages and college tuition to pay for, trips to take, and kitchens to remodel.
What to do: Remember to protect the ego of the person you’re communicating with and put yours aside.
Fear of Uncertainty – Perhaps there’s not much you can do about this. Life is uncertain. In fact, the more certain you think you are, time will typically prove you wrong. While you might not be able to have too much effect on uncertainty, you have 100% influence on the fear. Yours, and those of your team. Lack of information breeds fear.
What to do: Provide light. Don’t allow people to fashion stories based on limited information. Give them the facts and context. It may not eradicate fear, but you’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes to manage it.
Rewarding Off-Purpose – Psychology tells us, the things that get rewarded or recognized get repeated. I consider reward and recognition to be anything that highlights and celebrates any behavior. So, if you are making a big deal about someone’s lapse in performance, yet remain mute each time they get it right, or approximately right, you are essentially rewarding off-purpose. Behavior, activity, meetings, initiatives that get attention but have nothing to do with the organization’s purpose are likely to continue.
What to do: You need to start ignoring activity that is off-purpose and shift your attention to the behavior that is on-purpose.
Wage battle against these unhelpful habits and watch the trust and performance of the team rise.