Here are five things great leaders never do:
- Deliver annual performance reviews. Annual or semi-annual appraisals waste everyone's time. Years ago my review was late, so I mentioned it to my boss. He said, "I'll get to it... but you realize you won't learn a thing. You've already heard everything I will say, good or bad. If anything on your review comes as a surprise to you I haven't done my job." He was right. The best feedback isn't scheduled; the best feedback happens on the spot when it makes the most impact, either as praise and encouragement or as training and suggestions for improvement. Waiting for a scheduled review is the lazy way out. Your job is to coach and mentor and develop -- every day.
- Say, "Look... I've been meaning to apologize..." Apologies should be made on the spot, every time. You should never need to apologize for not having apologized sooner. When you mess up, 'fess up. Right away. Don't you want employees to immediately tell you when they make a mistake? Model the same behavior.
- Hold meetings to solicit ideas. Many companies hold brainstorming sessions to solicit ideas for improvement, especially when times get tough. Sounds great -- after all, you're "engaging employees" and "valuing their contributions," right? But you don't need a meeting to get input. When employees know you listen they often bring ideas to you. Plus, the better way to ask for ideas is to talk to people individually and to be more specific. Say, "I wish we could find a way to get orders through our system faster. What would you change if you were me?" Trust me: Employees picture themselves doing your job -- and doing your job better -- all the time. They have ideas. Be open, act on good ideas, explain why less than good ideas aren't feasible... and you'll get all the input you can handle.
- Create development plans. Development plans are, like annual performance reviews, largely a corporate construct. (HR staffers love to monitor compliance and alert managers when supervisors are late turning in their employees' development plans. Or maybe that's just my experience.) You should know what each of your employees hopes to achieve: Skills and experience they want to gain, career paths they hope to take, etc. So talk about it -- informally. Assign projects that fit. Provide training that fits. Create opportunities that fit. Then give feedback on the spot. "Develop" is a verb that requires action; "development" is a noun that sits in a file cabinet.
- Call in favors. I know lots of bosses who play the guilt game, like saying, "John, I've been very flexible with your schedule the last few months while your wife was sick... now I really need you to come through for me and work this weekend..." Generosity should always be a one-way street. Be flexible when it's the right thing to do. Be accommodating when it's the right thing to do. Never lend money to friends unless you don't care if you are repaid, and never do "favors" for employees in anticipation of return. As a leader, only give -- never take.
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