“Far too many leaders and managers inadvertently do things every day that send the message they distrust even their best people,” author David Peck says.
Peck, an executive coach, points out that bosses are de-motivating their people every day, without even knowing how or why.
What are these inadvertent de-motivators? “For example,” Peck says, “when you override or ignore your people’s input, it’s best to tell them why—and to have a good reason. Otherwise, you may unintentionally signal you don’t trust the quality or insightfulness of their ideas.”
Sapping people’s trust is de-motivating, and de-motivated people simply don’t do their best work, Peck says. “I’m not suggesting your role is to motivate your people, but it’s critical not to de-motive them. Eliminating inadvertent behaviors that say, ‘I don’t trust you,’ is a no-cost, high-value way to increase the odds they will consistently do their best work.”
What may not be evident is what a manager is doing that’s telegraphing mistrust or doubt. Here are seven areas to consider, with bite-size coaching ideas on each one.
Behaviors: Nitpicking, micro-editing, being hyper-vigilant about the details of employees’ work, too frequent check-ins, and telling rather than asking “better” ways to do what employees are doing.
Unintended message you send: I don’t trust you to do your job on your own.
Coaching bites: If there’s an enduring performance problem, greater vigilance may be necessary. If not, and if you think you may be hovering, ask yourself the appropriate question, depending on your pattern: “If I don’t micro-edit this, can it be good enough?” “What would enable me to experiment with getting out of the details of X’s work?” “Can I add greater value by asking good questions and provoking my people to come up with their own answers/solutions?”
2. Delegating the “how” as well as the “what”
Behaviors: Saying, in effect, “This is what I need, and here’s how I need you to do it,” or “You should/should’ve done it this way.”
Unintended message: “I don’t trust you to do our job your own way/to do your job the best way possible.”
Coaching bites: Telling employees how to do their work is marginalizing, rather than maximizing, them, which goes directly to the bottom line. If there’s well-grounded concern about whether they will produce a good solution, then either provide greater support or reconsider the person for his or her role. If there’s not, then having them figure out on their own the “how” makes them add value, and that’s what they’re paid to do.
3. Delegating without sufficient context
Behaviors: Making a request or command to do something without explaining why, or where it fits into the bigger picture.
Unintended message: “You don’t need to be in the loop of the ‘why’ of this. I don’t care enough about your success to actually increase the odds you will succeed here.”
Coaching bites: People do a much better job when they understand the context of a manager’s request—it’s needed to tailor the thinking and output in a positive way. Before making a request, try thinking about including the employees in the bigger picture, or explaining why they are not being given that context. Other things that add context include how their work will be used and why it is given a high priority. Higher-context delegation, even if it takes another minute or two of thought, will yield greater engagement and better output.
4. Taking authority for decision-making too far up the chain
Behaviors: Many organizations say they want to empower their people, yet particularly in difficult times, the reverse is the tidal pull. Pulling too many decisions into committees, or up the leadership chain, making decisions on smaller issues or expenditures and not delegating them.
Unintended message: “I don’t trust you to make prudent or wise decisions.”
Coaching bite: This may be a blind-spot issue. Consider asking people which decisions they feel they can make, yet are being made beyond or above them?
5. Leading with the mind-set that people are not allowed to fail
Behaviors: However well-intentioned, if people are working at their best, sometimes they will fall down, or fail. Intervening, over-rehearsing, or otherwise being heavy-handedly protective of them.
Unintended message: “I don’t trust that you can handle yourself well.”
Coaching bites: While it’s a good practice to help employees avoid falling a mile, falling an inch or even a foot can be an important—irreplaceable—learning experience, one that makes them more self-sufficient, and one that they’re deprived of if a manager is being too heavy-handed in their “defense.”
6. Overriding employees’ input or feedback
Behaviors: Taking in input, then (apparently to them) ignoring it without explanation. Asking for feedback, then overriding it.
Unintended message: “I don’t trust the quality or insights of your input.”
Coaching bites: If a manager seeks feedback or input, then chooses to bypass or reject it, it’s important to share what was behind the decision. “You had good ideas, but we ran out of time/budget, and had to do the minimum,” or “I appreciated what you said, and hope we can take it to heart next time, but this time, X got in the way,” can help. Otherwise, one risks shutting the employees up/shutting them down, particularly when the stakes are higher.
7. Keeping people under wraps
Behaviors: Bringing people along to an important presentation or moment and not having them actively participate. Not giving people opportunities to showcase their work.
Unintended message: “I don’t trust you to do your best when the setting or stakes are higher.”
Coaching bites: Again, if a manager is worried about employees presenting or showcasing in higher-stakes settings, then it’s important for the manager to address what’s worrying him or her. If not, then the manager may simply be in the habit of keeping people under wraps, and that’s a habit that’s easily changed. The manager should ask: “What would need to happen for me to provide a platform for X to shine?”
“Assuming one or a number of these may be an issue in your world, you can ask around, and see if there’s truth to any of them. If so, it probably wouldn’t hurt to try making some changes,” Peck says.