Things Leaders Do that Scare their Employees

Like everyone else, I receive a lot of information each day of varying relevance. But today I received a promotion for a new book that resonated with me. I have not yet read the book, SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, by Christine Comaford. But based upon the promo, the book raises some very interesting points.

Without even realizing it, most leaders do and say things that send employees into their “Critter State” where every decision they make is driven by fear. In other words, everything that makes them good employees — their ability to innovate, collaborate and think through problems — goes out the window. All decision-making is distilled down to one question: What course of action will keep me safest?

So how might we be inadvertently holding back our teams and crippling our own cultures? What, exactly, are we doing to send our people into their Critter States? Comaford describes a few (very subtle) offenders:

You “help them out” by giving them solutions. When we consistently tell people what to do instead of encouraging them to figure things out on their own, we develop a company full of order-takers instead of innovators. By training them to always ask, we create employees who are perpetually “frozen” in their Critter State.

Your meetings are heavy on sharing and point-proving, light on promises and requests. Why might a meeting scare employees? Because confusion and uncertainty create fear, Comaford says. Meetings that are rambling and unfocused send people into the fight-or-flight-freeze of the Critter State.

You give feedback to employees without first establishing rapport. Imagine for a moment that your employees are antelopes. Because you have authority over them, they quite naturally view you as a lion. That means unless you can get employees to see you as “just another antelope,” you won’t be able to influence them — they’ll be too busy ensuring their own survival to accept your feedback.

You focus on problems rather than outcomes. When everything is viewed as a problem, we tend to ask question such as “What’s wrong?” and “Why is this happening?” The result is anxiety, which leads to a reaction, which leads to another problem in a vicious cycle.

You frame “change” the wrong way. Although change is necessary for business growth, most people instinctively resist change. So when you say that there is going to be change, you will automatically be met with resistance.

In a future post I will discuss some of the solutions Comaford offers to these problems. In the meantime I’d be curious to know how many leaders recognize themselves in this list? I think if we’re honest, we could all say we’ve made these mistakes from time to time.

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