There are many ways to be an exceptional leader, and many ways to be a poor one, too. In my professional experience, however, one leadership mistake has stood out year after year as the easiest way to sabotage your team and counteract even the most sincere effort to lead with grace, confidence, and vision. What makes this pitfall so insidious is that even managers who are excellent leaders in other areas can make this mistake without even realizing it.
It’s simple: not giving feedback. Your job as a leader is to inspire your team to reach to new heights, and sometimes, unfortunately, to trim the fat and eliminate weak links in the chain. But the real leadership happens on the ground, in the huge space between high-level, positive-driven vision and letting some go.
Real leadership happens when someone isn’t living up to your vision. Instead of getting frustrated, dismissing them, or doubling down on the same motivational strategies that clearly aren’t working, this is your moment to shine by sitting down with a team member and having an honest conversation. Start by letting them talk. Figure out what they’re understandings are, and where they diverge from yours. Talk about expectations, but also the practical ways that you expect to see those play out. Give concrete feedback, open an ongoing dialogue, and give them a chance to rise to the occasion.
Even more importantly, keeping up a constant stream of feedback with all of your team, both positive and constructive, means that more than likely you’ll hardly ever have to have such a serious conversation in the first place.
After all, the best leaders aren’t just the ones who tell a competent, proven, well-oiled team what to do. They’re the ones that turn an ordinary group of people into that dream team.