Poor Leaders Create Incompetent Teams

I was talking to a seasoned manager. He was lamenting at the poor quality of his team members.

“I have to keep telling them what to do! Can’t they think for themselves?” he said as he threw his hands up in the air.

An employee walked past. “Excuse me for a minute,” he said to me. He then berated the employee for not following his instructions. If this was in mediaeval times, it would have been classed as a public flogging!

“See what I mean?” he said…

Some weeks later, it was the end of a two day training course to teach managers how to engage in quick, on-the-job coaching conversations. One of the participants, an experienced manager said, with emotion, “All of these years I thought that I was a good manager. But I have realised that I was just a ‘teller’.”

She went on to explain that she had realised that she did not give her team members space to think and to come up with their own solutions. It was quicker and easier – so she thought – to tell them what to do. Without  realising it, she had created a team of robots who were programmed to do what she told them to do.

So, what am I getting at here?

In both cases, the highly competent managers were creating what they labelled as incompetent teams. But, in reality, the problem was with the managers, not with their teams.

After the training course, the second manager went from being a ‘teller’ to a person who coached her team members for higher performance.  The coaching conversations might have lasted just a few minutes. And, to her delight, it worked! The week after the course, she excitedly informed me of how the motivation of team members had gone up, productivity had gone up and results were up as well. All because the manager had shifted from being centre of attention, the person with all the answers, to the guide who asked the right questions.

I believe that employees come to work wanting to do a good job. Some bosses amplify that desire and create great teams, who perform at high levels.

And there are other bosses who ask, “Why is my team so incompetent?” I suggest, if you are one of these bosses, that you put the mirror back on yourself and ask, “What is it about my behaviour that is leading my team to perform like this?”

For these bosses, there are three key behaviours to change. First, learn to ask questions rather than tell employees. You will find, as they build confidence to engage their brains – with your permission – that motivation and performance levels will rise. Team members feel valued when they are asked for their ideas and opinions.

Second, focus more time on spotting people doing the right thing. Create a positive ripple effect in your department by showing appreciation for the little things that team members do. It might be the way that a customer complaint was handled. Or it might be an idea that a team member came up with. There are countless reasons to recognise people in the workplace – if only you look!

Third, when things go wrong and people make mistakes, keep calm and positively guide the person, and the team to do things differently the next time around.You will nurture your team to develop the confidence to “fail its way to success”. (This is the topic of a blog post all on its own!)

The good news is that you can amplify the competence of your team members. You can create a positive feelings virus that will contagiously affect your team. And, as the research tells us, happy, engaged employees create happy, engaged, loyal customers.  What a wonderful, viral impact you will be able to create – every single day!

Food for thought? I hope so!

Until next time.

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