Mental Blindness: The Hidden Disease of Toxic Leadership

Unless you are one of the very few people who have been fortuitous enough to be self employed throughout the duration of your career, chances are you’ve had a boss; or several.  Even highly successful CEOs had to work their way up the ladder through the experiences they learned within a corporate atmosphere.  The leader of an organization ideally is one who shapes the individuals of their team in a nurturing climate that helps them to grow, excel and strive for excellence.  There are many different styles that a leader can adopt to ensure the success of their subordinates.

            Yet, there is also one leadership style that does just the opposite. A toxic leader, toxic boss or a toxic manager is a term used to describe the leader of an organization who does more harm than good to the wellbeing of a company.  Instead of using positive reinforcement, employee engagement and encouragement, the toxic leader will be more apt to use bullying, yelling, threatening, punishments, belittling or condescending behaviors to try to achieve results from the staff.  Maybe a simple and easy way to describe this type of leader is the “Boss from Hell”.

            The unfortunate aspect of a toxic leader is that very often the person is completely oblivious of the harm done, or that there is even a problem with this type of leadership style.  They think that in order to get people to do things they want, they must monitor and control the employees by using negative strategies.  Instead of listening to new ideas, they shut people down.  When an employee does something wrong – either because they were not trained properly or just accidently – the toxic leader screams and yells or writes up the employee instead of showing the person how it can be done differently, or better.  They may even carry on these antics in front of other staff to set an example, making the employee feel like crawling under a table with embarrassment and humiliation. Read more

Transparent Leadership – Can it really be that clear?

The concept of transparent leadership is one that is being adopted by many organizations across the board, yet its core premise is one that has yet to be fully embraced.  At the root of this ideal remains an underlying fear among upper management, executives and CEOs that by accepting such concepts would imply a show of weakness that would trickle down to subordinates and be seen by superiors as a hosh-posh.  In other words, a big mistake.

This certain hesitation is understandable, however it can be overcome by comprehending the values surrounding the transparent leadership buzz.  When people think of the word transparent, they think of ‘see-through’ or opaque, like glass.  Therefore, applying this term to being a leader doesn’t seem to go together and what people do not fully understand they usually reject.  Read more

Delegation Part I: Knowing When and How to Let Go of Control

If you are like the majority of leaders, you have paid your dues. You have completed your education, internship and may have even started at the bottom of your field and worked your way to the top after many years of employment. And whether you are currently at the bottom, middle or at the top of the ladder, you have experienced delegation.

While barking orders from busy managers may come to mind as your perception of delegation, there is much more to be understood about why it is such an essential skill of successful leadership.  From small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, delegation is a fundamental process that makes everything fluid, creating a streamlined environment that works.  Delegation is necessary to ensure the well-being of the customers and the development of the staff.

Why?  You may not like taking orders from superiors, yet without a leader everyone could be doing the wrong things.  There would be miscommunication and little opportunity for advancement.  Some employees actually prefer to have ‘duties’ rather than to make decisions, especially when it comes to making choices that are critical to success.

Plainly put, delegation is required in order to prevent a leader from becoming exhausted with doing everything.  A leader who accepts and acts on this fact will maximize their time and resources by allowing followers to perform tasks he or she should not be doing.

“The moment a leader realizes how much he needs other people is the very moment he can begin abandoning himself to their strengths

 – Max De Pree

 Why Should We Delegate?

For starters, think of all the things you could get done if you let someone else did them. Granted, they will need training and will probably never do it exactly the way YOU would, however that is one of the necessary traits in order to be a leader.  Knowing when to relinquish some power or control will actually give you more power.

We’ve all been in work environments that may feature two extreme scenarios.  The first is the Control Freak… the boss who doesn’t want your ideas or who has the attitude that things are ‘My Way or the Highway.’  This type of boss is known as a micro-manager. This creates resentment in the workplace and leads to unhappy employees, because no matter how hard they try, the control freak micro-manager is discontent with the tasks performed.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the opposite personality with the Dish-Off Delegator.  This type of supervisor dishes off everything, including their own responsibilities.  They may appear lazy or lacking abilities, but one thing is certain. The overworked employees lack respect for this type of management because they have too many tasks and get in trouble if they are not all completed in a timely fashion.  Both extremes lead to resentment in the workplace.  There should be a balance of what – and when – is delegated and those tasks should be outlined in the employee’s lineup of responsibilities, not as a “dish-off’ of someone else’s work.

As a leader, delegation allows you to:

  • Multiply yourself: Ever wish you had more than two hands?  Or “two of you?” Delegate by training certain people to perform duties that meet your expectations.
  • Create a motivated group:  Giving others small tasks make people feel part of a team. The team environment becomes a tight-knit unit that is able to perform duties to maximize time, enhance customer service and streamline the workflow process.
  • Develop people:  Becoming known as a people developer means that you are teaching them and giving them valuable knowledge, skills and information that will empower them to be able to become self-sufficient.
  • Master stress & time management:  Those who try to take on too much often feel burned out and spend less time with their families or relaxing. If all you do is work, work, work… it may be time to seek help.
  • Create opportunities for yourself and others:  Why hoard all of your talents and knowledge?  By investing your time and relinquishing skills to subordinates you can help them grow and help the company or organization grow, as well.  Having more staff that is less reliant on you means you will be able to take on more clients, which can lead to greater profitability.  It also allows your staff something to strive for as they reach less levels of dependency and become more motivated for promotions and raises.

 “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Why Don’t We Delegate?

Even though we’ve gone over a couple of the extremes with the Control Freak and the Dish-Off Delegator, there are a few psychological points to consider as to why the superior often choose not to delegate.  However, the underlying reason is a fear of letting go of too much control.  Some leaders want to keep the power to themselves, fearing that by showing or telling the staff members too much it may eventually try to take their own positions or do the job better than the leader is able to do.

This is often a disastrous scenario and one that can lead to a decline in the care of the patient, who we are ultimately responsible for.  Some leaders choose not to delegate because they just don’t know where to begin.  Uncertainty of how to offload the workload is one reason that some supervisors don’t delegate.

Others choose not to because they are unsure of whom to give the work to. If they feel that the staff members are too inadequate or incompetent, these leaders may choose not to offer any additional tasks.  Some feel that it’s just “easier to do the job myself” than to waste time instructing others in how to do it to meet their expectations.  Those high expectations are yet another reason, as many leaders feel they are the only ones who can do the job to meet the customer’s satisfaction.

A third group fall into the category of having no time whatsoever to delegate because training often takes too much time.  Constantly busy managers are a prime example of those who fit into this stereotype.  They are pulled in many directions, therefore they lack the time needed to devote to proper training.  Everyone suffers by this attitude, the employees, customers and the leader.  If that person is not there, everything falls apart because no one knows how to complete the tasks needed for the organization to be part of a streamlined process.

7 Steps to Effective Delegation

Once you realize the need for delegation as part of a fluid workplace, what now?  First and foremost, the leader must recognize the need for delegation and commit to taking the time and effort to teach others to perform certain duties that will make the process run smoothly.  Start by:

1)   Create a plan: First determine those tasks that could be given to others. What things could be given away and what things should be done yourself?  How will you implement this process so that everybody has a thorough understanding of their duties?

2)   Responsibility = Results:  Once people realize and learn their said tasks, it gives people something to strive for and enables them to become self-sufficient. It also gives them new direction and purpose, which can create better results and care for the patients.

3)   Choose the Right Person:  If you see specific characteristics in an individual that makes you think they are capable of handling new tasks, then choose that person to delegate related tasks.  For example, you may wish to delegate organizational tasks to someone who is very detail oriented and thorough; whereas you may distribute errands and busywork to another employee who appears restless.  Match certain tasks with the personalities of those individuals for best results.

4)   Authority:  Even though you want to seem likeable to your employees, you must first become respected by them.  You can’t always be their “friend” without being their boss first.  Make sure as you dish out the tasks, you are there to double-check their work and either reward or reprimand as needed. This will put you in the light as their superior and one that staff members look up to for advice and counsel.

5)   Checkpoints:  Creating milestones gives measures to gauge success. When employees meet or surpass your set of expectations, it could be a good time to add more responsibilities or give that person a promotion.  Checkpoints give the staff a chance to prove their abilities to you, as their leader.

6)   Motivating Environment:  There is something to be said for happiness in the workplace.  Reward those who go above and beyond your expectations.  Recognition is a key to creating an atmosphere of teamwork.  Beyond just a simple pat on the back, you may wish to create tangible rewards, such as bonuses, trophies or gift cards that your employees can work to earn and that will foster an ambitious work atmosphere.

7)   Accountability:  Make people accountable for certain tasks. If they fail to do them, you can reassign them to the right people who are more capable of handling the tasks you choose to delegate.  Accountability also spurns people to take action, rather than to leave the work for someone else.  You can do this by using a chart that people have to check off certain duties, or by reporting them with an email to you by a specific deadline, etc.

If you’re new to the art of delegation and are someone used to “doing everything yourself”, you must realize that you are holding back your own success.  Some fear that by letting go of control over most of the responsibilities they may be viewed as weak or incapable, rather than the opposite.  People often respect the one who delegates, as long as they pull their own weight.  What I mean by this is that if the supervisor just commands orders to everyone and then heads out for the golf course, this is not setting a good example to the staff members and they may feel as if they are doing all the work while the management is out enjoying life.

The true art of delegating is being able to take on more work but to give the work you should not be performing to someone else who is perfectly capable of doing their tasks.  It’s like having octopus arms.  In Part II of our Delegation Series, we’ll go over the 5 Levels of Delegation and What You Can do to Implement Delegation.

Do You Really Understand?

I was asked this question after sharing with an employee who was hurting that I understood how she felt. The minute the she said, “Do you really understand!” my heart sunk. Then it hit me, I had just made the #1 listening mistake…sharing that I understood when I had not validated how she felt. Her facial expressions and tone of voice signaled you just think you do. I quickly said, “May I share how I think you feel?” She nodded yes. I said, “You feel scared and unsure of yourself and believe you will be blamed for anything that goes wrong.” She said, “Yes I feel like a scapegoat and dread coming to work every day.”

Fortunately, I quickly recovered and said, “Tell me more.” Then I shut up and listened. Occasionally, I would paraphrase or ask a question to ensure understanding of her intent and emotions. Twenty minutes later, she thanked me for understanding her situation.

Upon returning to my office, I reflected on my poor behavior and asked myself, “Why did I dehumanize her?” The answer was simple; I did not want to listen. I was preoccupied with an upcoming deadline and focused on myself instead of a person in need. Within the first few minutes of hearing her story I began to think to myself, “I don’t have time for this…please hurry up and finish!” The story I told myself drove my emotions and next thing you know I blurted out, “I understand.”

The next time you find yourself not wanting to listen remember there is a cost. When you miss out on key information the organization loses money due to mistakes and wasted time. Besides losing money employees face emotional wear and tear causing relationships to become strained which impacts their performance and productivity.

Remember, when people are understood and trusted they will give their best effort and fully invest themselves in their work.

Listening is the doorway to understanding, bridge to connection and the foundation of trust.

~John Bentley


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