In the first couple of leadership positions that I held, I saw firsthand how detrimental it can be to an organization to reward dysfunctional behavior. Because of those experiences, I developed a bias against over-reacting to employees or stakeholders who seemed oversensitive.
For good or bad, I am pretty task-oriented as a leader, and my default response to office gossip or veiled complaints has been to note them internally, but ignore them externally. Like a fire without oxygen, the issue will usually resolve itself and fade out.
Overall, that’s been a strategy that has worked well. However, like anything else, if taken too far, any strategy can become unproductive. In other words, there are times when you need to respond with more than mere acknowledgment.
Here are four things that every leader should address when he/she sees them.
- Perplexing Priorities
It’s been said that the organization that has “many” priorities doesn’t really have “any” priorities. While each item’s urgency and importance may be very clear to you, it’s not a given that it is that clear to everyone else. So, when your team starts to feel that everything that comes along is of equal importance and equal urgency, you have a problem that only you can address—and you need to do it quickly.
Your team needs you to keep the focus clearly fixed upon the priorities. There will always be new ideas, new problems, and issues; and at times, the new thing will rise to the top of the priority list. However, if every new idea immediately goes to the top of the list, it won’t be long until your team not only feels overwhelmed, they will also be reluctant to give it their all because they know it is only a matter time before that priority is replaced by the next one.
I’m not talking about the kind of fatigue that comes from staying up too late every night. I mean the fatigue that comes from the energy it takes to work hard on something that is urgent and important, but not easily nor quickly completed. Usually the more important or impactful a project is, the longer it takes to complete it, the more complex it is, the more “uncontrollable” factors there are to address, and the more opposition there is to it from others.
After a while, it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. That’s why one of the key things a leader must do is encourage people’s hearts. Leaders put courage into people’s hearts, and they do it individually, creatively, and repeatedly because courage leaks out of even your most ardent supporters.
- No One Listens to Me
Here’s where a leader needs great discernment. You have to be careful to distinguish between chronic whining and genuine frustration. The former is dysfunctional; the latter is a warning sign. No one gets their way every time in any organization, and mature people don’t have to get their way every time. They still give their all even when the team goes in a different direction than they wanted.
However, every person needs to be heard; and when devoted team members begin to feel that their views aren’t even considered, you have a problem. A lot of leaders tell me that listening to others is one of their worst flaws. My guess is that this is one of the main reasons why such a large part of the American workforce is not engaged. Leaders must listen to their team.
- Us Against Them
At first, this may seem like a rather benign issue, and maybe even a beneficial attitude for motivation. The media loves sports teams who play with a “chip on their shoulder” because they don’t get respect or they want revenge. However, it’s not a good approach to cultivate or tolerate this in the workplace. Today’s business world, in both the private and the public sector, calls for collaboration and cooperation.
Successful organizations need collaboration within the team—as well as with customers and other stakeholders. Fostering an “us against them” culture is poisoning to the team’s chemistry. Also, it is not sustainable for long-term health because the definition for both “us” and “them” is always changing. Here’s what I’ve noticed happens: some who start in the “us” get moved to the “them,” but those who start as “them” never become “us.” Eventually, the numbers just don’t add up.