You’ve probably heard people criticise the leaders in your organisation. It’s easy to point fingers and blame leadership when things go wrong, but unfortunately, a lot of problems do start at the top.
As leaders, we need to show valuable leadership that actually helps our people and teams. If all we are is overhead, we’re going to feel insecure about our roles. If we are simply an obstruction that people need to overcome, then we’re not helping… we’re hurting.
Valuable leadership is all about helping your team overcome obstacles, helping them work more effectively and to improve their abilities. Without these aspects, you might just be an overpaid nuisance.
Let’s start helping our teams and stop hurting them.
The Fine Line Between Helping and Hurting Your Team
1. Providing Direction … Without Clear Priorities
Providing direction to your team and delegating work is great. You’re making sure the work is done by the right people and stating where the team should put their effort. Helpful… tick.
Where leaders start hurting their teams is when they provide direction without clearly stating the priority of the work. This is particularly relevant in busy environments where teams are working on their day jobs and also need to juggle project work or new unexpected tasks.
It can be tempting to let your team members work it out for themselves. That’s called autonomy, right? But when you’re asking for two things without saying which is most important, you might be disappointed when your team delivers you the wrong one.
Providing direction is good. Failing to state the priority of the work is not. This simply increases the stress on people who are uncertain as to which work should be their focus.
Some team members will respond by working harder and for longer to do everything, increasing the risk of burnout. Others will shut down and just do the work that they know they can accomplish. Either situation is heading for trouble.
2. Standing Up For Your Team … By Sheltering Them
Yes! Leaders should stand up for their teams. Otherwise, team members can feel as if they are alone, without support. This can increase stress and make people feel vulnerable.
Where leaders fall into the hurt zone is when they stand up for their teams by failing to investigate issues their teams may have caused, or by failing to pass on feedback about poor performance.
If you always take the approach that your team never does anything wrong, then you might be reinforcing bad behaviour in your workplace. Others may see you as too protective and defending poor performance and behaviour.
Some leaders don’t pass on bad feedback because it might hurt their team’s feelings, and it’s an uncomfortable conversation. This denies a team the opportunity to improve and can set the precedent for more poor performance down the track.
Valuable leadership includes standing up for your team. Helpful… tick. Sheltering them from bad feedback or failing to acknowledge poor performance… not so good.
3. Providing Oversight … By Monitoring Your Team’s Every Move
Providing oversight for your team is great. You can monitor performance and make sure the quality of the work is good. You can even provide pointers on where your team can improve.
Where you start to hurt your team is when you take over. You monitor every move of your team, feel the need to review everything and even feel compelled to do the work yourself. Unfortunately, this isn’t helping, it’s hurting.
Strong oversight is often a crutch for insecure leaders who don’t feel valuable in their roles. Leaders who begin to feel as if they are simply overhead may overcompensate by relying on micromanagement.
If you have too much free time, you need to be thinking more strategically about how to improve your team, building workplace relationships, doing better planning or finding other ways to be helpful.
Spending your time micromanaging your team is not helpful … it’s hurting.
4. Protecting Your Team … By Never Letting Them Fail
Another way that leaders may feel like they’re helping their teams is by trying to protect them from failure. We may not feel like we’re doing it, but sometimes it happens unconsciously.
Your team member is running an important workshop with some influential stakeholders? Maybe you should tag along and make sure it goes OK…
Someone in another team has been working closely with your team member. They aren’t happy with the work that has been completed. Perhaps you should step in and resolve the situation?
If your instinct is to swoop in and save your team members, you may be doing more harm than good. A better approach may be to let them know you’re there if you need them, but to take a step back instead.
The support you provide will build their confidence, and they may never need to come to you for help after all. Valuable leadership means letting your team members fight their own battles as the first option, only getting involved when needed.
If you run in and try to resolve the situation first, you may be undermining your people and reducing their credibility in the eyes of their stakeholders.
The Statements of Valuable Leadership
We’ve seen some examples of valuable leadership and the fine line between helping and hurting your team. Now, here are the statements of valuable leadership according to Thoughtful Leader.
Test yourself against the statements below and ask yourself the question: Am I helping or hurting?
- Helpful, not hindering. Valuable leadership removes obstacles and resolves issues that the team aren’t able to solve by themselves.
- Supportive, not smothering. Valuable leadership is being present to provide advice and support your team, without monitoring every move.
- Reinforcing, not protecting. Valuable leadership stands up for the team, without fighting all the battles for them.
- Guiding, but not directing. Valuable leadership means clearly setting the important priorities and constraints, and then stepping back and letting the team work within them.
Valuable leadership is all about balance. Too much and you might step over the line to hurt your team. Even though you don’t mean any harm, it’s important to monitor your behaviour and actions, taking a step back when you might have gone too far.
Try asking yourself – am I hurting or helping?
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Do you agree or disagree? What are some other aspects of valuable leadership that should be mentioned? Leave a comment below!