Seven Disempowering Habits of Managers
Reading time: 10 minutes
In the crucible of management, where decisions are made and futures are shaped, there exist unseen barriers that can limit even the most talented managers and executives. These barriers are not organizational obstacles or market challenges, but rather, self-imposed habits that quietly erode our authority and diminish our power.
As dedicated stewards of leadership, it is critical for managers to identify and overcome these habits, unleash the full breadth of their potential and create the right role modelling for the other managers or people in the company.
Let’s look at seven such habits that sometimes are perpetuated for years in the organizational system uninterrupted, leading to inefficiency and toxic cultures.
1. Complaining about things outside your control
Case Study: The Budget Freeze
Consider Michael, a department head in a multinational firm. As a department head in a global technology firm, he took pride in his team's ability to innovate and drive the company forward. When the firm faced an unexpected budget freeze due to economic downturns, Michael found himself caught in a loop of frustration. In meetings, he would often highlight the limitations imposed by the freeze, pointing out the projects that could no longer be pursued and the growth that was being stifled.
This narrative began to take hold within his team, creating a culture where complaint was more common than creativity. Morale dipped as discussions centred on what they couldn't do rather than on what was still possible. Unknown to Michael, this constant air of discontent began to erode his stature within the company. His superior, who was looking for leaders to navigate through these challenging times, noticed the shift with Michael and started to involve him less and less, preferring to use her time in productive conversation with Michael’s peers who came with initiatives of cross-departmental collaborations to pool resources, pushing for leaner processes that maximized efficiency, and searching out alternative funding methods like innovation grants.
By focusing on the freeze, Michael inadvertently highlighted his own inability to lead under pressure, diminishing his influence. The power he had to inspire and lead his team through adversity began to dissipate, flowing instead to those who refused to be hindered by circumstances beyond their control.
When leaders fixate on the uncontrollable, they unwittingly empower external circumstances to dictate internal morale. The focus must shift from complaint to action: what can be controlled, improved, and leveraged within the current constraints.
2. Seeking external validation
Case Study: The Approval Seeker
In a leading consumer goods firm, Olga’s need for validation made her a bottleneck. Accustomed to appreciation, she became tentative when complexity rose with her new senior role. Her emails sought endorsements, her plans awaited green lights. This quest for consensus diluted her decisiveness, casting ripples of indecision through her team.
The delays in decision-making echoed down the company, stalling projects and frustrating her, once-dynamic team. They began to sense her vacillation, and it cost her the respect that leadership demands. Her authority, once solid as bedrock, now seemed as tenuous as shifting sands beneath her team's feet.
Enter Thomas, her senior manager, with his sharp decisiveness slicing through the haze of hesitation. Where Olga faltered, Thomas stepped firmly. His directness and speed in decision-making drew the team’s and upper management's regard, shifting the dynamic of power decisively in his favour.
Olga’s predicament underscores a vital truth for leaders: confidence begets authority. By outsourcing her confidence, she inadvertently transferred her leadership capital to Thomas. Leadership, after all, is not just about making the right decision but having the fortitude to stand by one's decisions.
Olga's saga is a stark reminder of how the need for external validation can undermine a manager's effectiveness. The authority to lead is given to you with the job, but this formal authority must be exercised with self-assurance and trust in one’s own capabilities.
3. Being a slave to your emotions
Case Study: The Passionate Leader
Alex's role as a project leader in a high-stakes tech startup was marked by his fiery passion, which, under stress, often erupted into heated outbursts. This intensity, while initially seen as a drive for excellence, began to foster unease and resentment among his team. The once motivating energy was now a source of unpredictability, disrupting the team’s focus and flow.
The team's need for a stable and supportive environment led them to Alex's deputy, Sophie. Her calm demeanour and thoughtful approach became a beacon during turbulent periods. Sophie's ability to navigate through stress with grace and strategic thinking drew the team's loyalty and respect, subtly shifting the leadership dynamic.
In the wake of this shift, it became evident that emotional intelligence was the missing piece in Alex's leadership. The ability to manage one's emotions and the emotions of others is crucial, particularly in high-pressure settings. Effective leaders like Sophie understand that emotional steadiness is essential to team cohesion and performance.
Alex's journey highlights a pivotal lesson for managers: leadership is not solely about vision and drive; it's equally about maintaining an emotional equilibrium that inspires confidence and trust. Leaders must channel their emotions into a positive force that aligns with the team’s goals and enhances the workplace atmosphere.
4. Escaping pressure through wrong coping mechanisms
Case Study: The Overwhelmed Auditor
Richard, a financial auditor with a robust technical background, was recruited by the CEO of a rising fintech company. Highly appreciated for his significant expertise, Richard was seen as the key person the company needed for its end-of-year financial audit. Yet, despite high expectations, the weight of responsibility began to take a toll on him.
As the audit was in progress, the pressure mounted. Richard found himself unable to cope. In an uncharacteristic turn, he sought solace in alcohol, an escape that quickly spiralled into a week-long absence during the most crucial time of the fiscal year.
His colleagues, who had initially admired his expertise, were left to navigate the audit's challenges without him. The trust and dependability that are the bedrock of any leadership role were compromised. The company had to make the difficult decision to terminate his contract, a stark reversal from the promise with which he had arrived.
Richard's story is a sombre reminder of the delicate balance that leaders must maintain. It underscores the necessity for managers to seek healthy coping mechanisms for stress and to recognize when they may need support. It is not just the pursuit of pleasure but any form of escapism that can lead to a fall from grace when left unchecked.
5. Living in the past
Case Study: The Nostalgic Director
Manuel, a director at a consumer electronics firm, often reminisced about her early victories. His success stories, once inspirational, became repetitive, overshadowing the need to address current market shifts. His team grew restless, yearning for a strategy that addressed today's challenges.
His backward-looking focus caused a disconnect with his team, who were keen to explore emerging technologies. The brightest minds, hungry for innovation, started to drift away from Manuel’s shadow, seeking and creating new paths for success.
This shift in focus within his team meant that while Manuel was looking back, his team was moving forward. The initiative and adaptability displayed by his colleagues began to steer the department in new directions, away from Manuel's static approach.
Manuel's tale is a reminder that while experience is valuable, fixation on the past can blind leaders to the present. Embracing change and fostering a culture of agility is crucial for maintaining relevance and leadership in a dynamic market.
6. Obsessing over the future
Case Study: The Anxious Project Manager
Tom, a project manager renowned for his strategic foresight, started to focus too much on planning to mitigate potential risks and problems in the future. His constant worry over what could go wrong instilled a sense of dread within his team, overshadowing their current endeavours.
As Tom's fixation with future scenarios intensified, his team's ability to focus on the present diminished. They became entangled in a web of 'what-ifs' rather than paying attention to matters at hand, celebrating current successes and tackling immediate challenges.
This created an opening for Tom’s colleagues, who were more grounded in the present. They began to emerge as pragmatic decision-makers, addressing today’s issues with a clear head and a firm hand.
Tom's case illustrates the importance of balance. A leader must navigate the present with confidence while prudently planning for the future, ensuring that neither is neglected in favour of the other.
7. Seeking perfection in everything
Case Study: The Perfectionist Leader
Julia, a manager in a creative firm, pursued perfection in every project. Her relentless drive for flawless work led to frequent delays, curbing her team’s potential to work freely under tight deadlines.
Her insistence on perfect results started to backfire as team productivity plummeted. The constant quest for an unblemished outcome became a barrier to completing projects on time and stifled creativity.
Meanwhile, Julia's subordinates, who prioritized practicality over perfection, began to gain the team's respect. They showed that excellence is achievable without the strain of perfection, encouraging a more dynamic and fluid approach to work.
This shift in team dynamics is a lesson for leaders: the pursuit of excellence should be balanced with practical expectations. Prioritizing progress and efficiency often leads to better outcomes than chasing the illusion of perfection.
The strength of a manager often erodes from within, not from external pressures. It's the habits managers cultivate in response to challenges that can either bolster or weaken their leadership. By identifying and adjusting the self-sabotaging behaviours they entertain without being aware, managers can profoundly improve their impact, lead their teams to greater success, and enjoy a steady career in management.
The clarity and nature of your thinking directly influence the calibre of the decisions you make. In turn, these decisions have a significant effect on your overall contentment and success in both personal and professional aspects of your life.
Before ending this article, I leave you with a set of questions to ponder about your current habits:
- How are you actively redirecting focus from constraints to capabilities?
- How does your current decision-making reflect confidence rather than reliance?
- How are you demonstrating composed leadership in stressful situations today?
- How are you currently maintaining professional discipline amidst personal desires?
- What current actions are you taking to learn from the past?
- How are you balancing immediate tasks with future planning, today?
- How are you encouraging your team's progress over perfection now?
Can you recognize the connection between your current performance and these habits?
Your Management Performance Coach
Managers often unknowingly cultivate disempowering habits that erode their authority and weaken their effectiveness. These self-imposed barriers are not external challenges but internal behaviours that limit potential and negatively influence team culture and performance. Recognizing and adjusting these habits can significantly enhance a manager's impact and success.
The seven detrimental habits identified are: complaining about uncontrollables, seeking external validation, being ruled by emotions, resorting to poor coping mechanisms, living in the past, obsessing over the future, and seeking perfection in everything. Overcoming these habits requires a shift in focus from limitations to possibilities, reliance to confidence, emotional reaction to composed leadership, escapism to professional discipline, past glories to current challenges, future worries to present actions, and perfection to progress. This change in mindset and behaviour can lead to improved decision-making, greater contentment, and success in both personal and professional realms.
Key takeaways include:
- Complaints about external factors can diminish a leader's influence.
- Dependency on external approval can undermine decisiveness and authority.
- Emotional volatility can disrupt team cohesion, while emotional intelligence builds it.
- Poor coping mechanisms can jeopardize professional credibility and trust.
- Dwelling on past successes can blind leaders to current market or organizational dynamics.
- Excessive future-focused anxiety can distract from present opportunities.
- Perfectionism can hinder efficiency and stifle creativity.
- Confidence, adaptability, and practicality are essential qualities for effective leadership.
- Leadership strength is often compromised by internal habits rather than external pressures
In management, reflecting on one's habits and understanding one's self-sabotage through detrimental habits is crucial for personal and professional development.
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