3 Signs Your Leadership Style Is Too Tough

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

Sometimes leaders can push their folks so hard that performance suffers. I get it; there’s huge pressure on leaders to achieve results. But there’s a fine line between pushing people to achieve greatness and pushing so hard that employees crack.

There are four fundamental leadership styles: Pragmatist, Idealist, Steward and Diplomat. Leaders can be effective or ineffective within each of these four styles, but one style in particular is at the greatest risk of pushing people too hard—the Pragmatist. (There’s a leadership styles assessment to assess your own style.)

I consider Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, to be Pragmatists. Pragmatists have high standards, and they expect themselves, and their employees, to meet those standards. These leaders are driven, competitive, and they value hitting their goals above all else. They can be bold thinkers, unafraid of taking the road less travelled (even when others struggle or feel anxious). Pragmatists are also hard-driving and often enjoy smashing through obstacles.

The Pragmatist leadership style can achieve amazing results. (Read more about all the leadership styles in my Forbes article “Which Of These 4 Leadership Styles Are You?“) But if any of the Pragmatist characteristics sound similar to your leadership style, you want to make sure you don’t push things too far. Here are three signs that your leadership style has gotten too tough…

1: You Walk Into A Room And People Stop Talking

One of the surest signs that you’ve crossed the line from respect to fear is when you walk into a room and the chatter immediately turns to silence. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean people were talking about you. But it’s often a sign that they’re afraid of you.

Remember back in high school when you had that really tough teacher, who as soon as they entered the classroom all the students ‘zipped it’ for fear of getting yelled at (or sent to the principal’s office)? If you enter a room and have flashbacks to that tough teacher, you may have strayed from respected to feared.

We all like meetings to quickly come to order. And it’s perfectly normal to not want your office to be a coffee klatch. But there’s a difference between a room quieting gently when you enter versus people shutting-up mid-sentence out of fear. Stay aware for this warning sign.

2: When You Give Constructive Feedback, Employees Are Very Quiet

Every leader (regardless of their leadership style) is going to give tough feedback or constructive criticism. But ideally, when you give that feedback, the recipient will have a response or ask questions. Maybe they ask for clarification. Or perhaps they share their side of things. Occasionally they might respectfully disagree. And in a perfect world, they’ll say something like ‘Gee, you’re right…I totally get it now.’

But when the recipient of your constructive criticism sits there quietly, without much response, it’s often an indicator that they’ve gone into mental shutdown (perhaps trying to survive a verbal beating). When constructive feedback is given perfectly, the recipient has a ‘light bulb moment’ where they realize their error, how the error happened, and how to make things better next time. I call this ‘making a corrective leap.’

When constructive feedback is delivered too harshly, the recipient can get defensive, shut down mentally, and never make that ‘corrective leap.’ They fail to do anything positive or productive with the feedback. If you observe this response happening often, with more than one of your employees, you may need to dial down on the toughness and focus on delivering more ‘constructive’ and less ‘criticism.’

3: You Do More Than 60% Of The Talking In Meetings

Occasionally when I’m coaching a senior executive, I’ll attend a few of their meetings. One of the metrics I track during those meetings is how many minutes the executive talks versus everyone else in the room (I literally use a stopwatch just like an old-school gym teacher). If the executive does more than 60% of the talking, it’s a pretty good sign that their leadership style has gotten too tough.

There’s a difference between a meeting and an assembly. In an assembly, it’s perfectly legitimate to call people into the room and deliver a soliloquy with a bunch of information. If you’ve got a big announcement or a new policy change, the largely one-way flow of information of assembly can be acceptable.

But meetings are different. In a meeting, you brought those people into the room to solicit and gather their input, to elicit their great ideas, and to avail yourself of their innovative thoughts. That won’t happen if you’re doing all of the talking.

Sometimes leaders do all the talking because they have trouble sitting quietly (whether from ego or ADHD or whatever). But sometimes leaders do all the talking because their employees are too afraid to open their mouths. This situation can cause a lot of trouble. Test this out in your next meeting. Stop talking for a few minutes. If your employees naturally pick-up the conversation, you’re probably okay. But if there’s an awkward lull, or people just stare, waiting for you to speak again, there’s an issue.

As a leader, you don’t ever want to stop reaching for greatness. But you do want to make sure that your employees are reaching with you and not cracking under pressure. Pay attention to the warning signs, be driven but not too tough, and you should achieve great success.

Mark Murphy is a NY Times bestselling author, founder of Leadership IQ, a leadership training speaker, and creator of the leadership styles assessment.

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Posted by Mark Murphy on 10 January, 2017 Forbes, Leadership Styles | 0 comments
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