The legendary college football coach Woody Hayes once said there were four ways he could cheat his players: do for them what they can do for themselves, allow them to get by on less than their best effort, allow them to believe their athletic talent is the only education they will need, and allow them to believe that football makes them privileged.
As a manager you may have never thought of it this way, but there are times when you cheat your employees. You probably don’t do it intentionally, and in fact, I’d almost guarantee you don’t. However, we all get stuck in patterns of unexamined behavior which lead to unintended consequences. Here are four common ways manager’s cheat their team members:
1. Solving their problems. Prior to being a manager, the odds are that you were a top performer on your team. You likely developed a reputation as someone who could solve any problem that came your way and that ability probably helped you get promoted. Now that you’re the boss, you relish the opportunity to help team members solve problems. When they come to you for advice, you don’t hesitate to jump right in and solve the problem for them. Although you think you’re helping your team by doing this, the reality is you’re cheating them from gaining the competence and confidence that comes from solving their own problems. You’re also creating a sense of learned helplessness among your team members. Even if you have the noble intention of wanting to help your team, your efforts will have the unintended consequence of conditioning them to expect you’ll always be there to give them the answer. Instead, help them become self-reliant problem solvers. Practice asking open-ended questions that draw out their thinking, help them consider alternatives, and provide perspective to expand their approach to solving the problem.
2. Micromanaging. Lack of trust is at the heart of micromanagement. Although you may rationalize your behavior as helping a team member because you’re taking work off their plate, or wanting to make sure things are done right, the fact is you resort to controlling behavior because you don’t trust the abilities of your team members. Micromanagement kills the motivation of your team members, reduces their creativity, and stifles innovation. It leads to them checking their brains at the door because they know you’ll do all the thinking for them. Micromanagement cheats your team out of embracing their own knowledge and power that leads to them performing their best.
3. Not giving honest feedback. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news and giving feedback about poor performance is probably the most dreaded task of any manager. Too often we dance around the issue, talk in vague generalities, and hope the employee will somehow get the message that they need to improve. I’ve learned over and over in my career that people not only need honest feedback about their performance, they deserve it. As a manager, we should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to coach our team members in areas that need improvement. That doesn’t mean the feedback needs to be delivered in a harsh, in your face manner. It can be communicated with candor and care. The two are not mutually exclusive. Don’t cheat your team and stunt their development by sugarcoating performance feedback.
4. Not having high enough expectations. A hallmark of winning teams is having a leader with high expectations. People often perform to the level of expectations placed upon them. Good leaders know this and push their team to perform at the highest level possible. These leaders don’t just expect it, but they train, coach, equip, and encourage their team to reach heights they wouldn’t normally achieve on their own. It’s easy to get beaten down with the grind of everyday corporate life. We get so engrained in the mundane activities of keeping the business running that we neglect setting stretch goals for our team members. Don’t cheat your team by letting them stay comfortable with the status quo. Anyone can set the bar low and reach it. Great things are achieved when the bar is set high and the team works hard to clear it.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re the coach of a sports team, a leader of a volunteer group, or a manager in the workplace, cheating your team members comes down to failing to act in their best interests. Always do what’s right and best for your employees, even if it’s hard and uncomfortable, and you won’t ever have to worry about having cheated your team, or yourself.