Many of us have experienced the frustration of working for a manager who intimidates their team members while apparently charming their superiors at the same time. But it’s hard to know if you are that type of manager. You might think you are doing a good job. You get results by challenging and pushing people past their comfort zones. But what if they perceive your style as overly intimidating and as a consequence they are actually afraid of you?
How your team feel about your style will impact on their performance. Research indicates that managers who manage using ‘pressure tactics’ experience higher employee turnover. In addition, employees who work for ‘toxic’ managers are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviours as a form of retaliation against their boss.
But how can you make sure that your team don’t experience any unnecessary trepidation around you? Here are five things you can do that will help.
1) Assume your team will be afraid of you. Given the power differential between you and your team, asking them directly if you make them anxious probably won’t yield the truth! Instead, think about how you behave in various situations. Do you take your team for granted? Do you go overboard with your tone and mannerisms when expressing dissatisfaction? In addition, observe your team member’s behaviour too. Do you struggle to get them to voice their ideas, opinions or concerns your meetings. Do you feel that you are the last person to hear about things? Do you find that mistakes get covered up?
2) Ask for feedback. Gather a broader insight about how your team see your style and feel about work by asking for feedback. For example, ask them to describe a time in the last 6 to 12 months when they felt unable to express their views, ideas or concerns and a time when they felt free to do so. By asking “when” instead of “if” they felt a certain way, you will prompt them to think deeply about real examples instead of simply saying no and avoiding the discussion.
3) Check whether you are projecting your own fears onto them. Many managers cope with their fear of failure by pushing themselves and others harder and as a consequence they inadvertently instil the same fear in their teams. Consider the example of a newly appointed manager. They are conscientious and desperate to succeed. So, they don’t empower but micromanage to ensure they have control over everything. They also become an ardent corrector of their team’s work and are highly critical of the smallest mistakes. Consequently, their team members feel that they cannot be trusted and dare not put a foot wrong for fear of criticism or retribution.
4) Reduce your ‘correction’ and increase your ‘connection’. Managers who regularly correct their team members increase fear in the workplace. Being ultra-critical causes people to be fearful of making mistakes. Instead, replace your temptation to correct with a meaningful discussion that helps build a shared ownership of problem solving and success. To help, try the following. Whenever you have an urge to correct a team member write on a piece of paper ‘connect with them first’. This will help you to suspend your judgment and invite your colleague to share their views first.
5) Show vulnerability. Managers who create a safe team culture proactively invite different and opposing views from their own. They don’t mind conceding power every once in a while to their team because they know it will increase their commitment in the long run. However, this means you need to show vulnerability. Consider whether you have ever, without a hint of frustration or defensiveness, allowed your team to prove you wrong. If you haven’t, consider doing so, and don’t worry too much about whether it will make you look weak. Knowing when to show vulnerability is a strength.
Some managers believe that being direct and pushy is the only way to get results. While this can be appropriate in some situations (e.g. in an emergency or high-risk situation), it does not build a culture of trust and commitment in the long term. It simply builds a culture of compliance. If you manage with no awareness of how your team members experience your style, you invite more dysfunction into the workplace and this can limit productivity. By understanding how your team view your style, you can make sure your behaviour doesn’t cross the line between pushing them hard and pushing them away.
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