About 15 years ago, I worked for a company that decided to reduce the number of managers within the company structure.
So all of my colleagues and I had to be re-interviewed and assessed for our jobs…. needless to say this revealed an ugly side to pretty much all of us. We were all fiercely out for ourselves, with very little care or thought to the other people around us. The bonds of team work disappeared during this process and it was heartbreaking to be a part of.
When it was all over I thought things would go back to normal – but it didn’t. For the people who remained the fear lived on. Nobody felt safe ever again.
This is an extreme example, but it has a point…. THREATS WILL KILL PERFORMANCE.
As soon as our jobs were at risk, our instant reaction was to go into self preservation mode and defend ourselves.
How good do you think customer service was? How about training and development? How about sharing of best practice?
Absolute Zero – because we were under threat.
Potentially losing your job is an obvious threat, but there are other, more subtle, but just as damaging threats we use in day to day management.
Maybe you have used some of these?
What do your team think will happen to them if they don’t reach the sales target?
Or ensure costs are within budget?
What do your team think will happen if they get audited?
Or if a customer complaint comes in?
Have you as a leader made sure that all of these would be seen as growth opportunities or does your team feel threatened by them?
Because if they do – then YOU are eroding your teams performance level.
Threats reduce the circle of trust – and people who do not feel safe, who do not feel trusted… WILL NOT ACT IN THE INTERESTS OF THE TEAM AND WILL NOT PERFORM TO THIER POTENTIAL.
Any threat will have this effect… the smaller the threat… the smaller and more gradual the reaction.
If this sounds like something you may have done in your leadership role, then here are some ideas that will help restore the circle of trust with your team.
I realise this is will not be popular advice – particularly for those in leadership roles.
The idea of a leader admitting they got something wrong, means they would have to show vulnerability – which, if we are honest, most of us just don’t want to do.
Even in today’s enlightened world, where the benefits of authentic leadership have been scientifically proven… It is still incredibly rare to find a leader who is brave enough to show genuine vulnerability.
However, if you want your team to feel trusted, to feel safe and to work at their potential, with the success of the group at heart – Then you will have to apologise if you have threatened them. It is the only way to open the gate of the circle of trust again.
Think of it from a follower’s perspective – What is more motivating? A leader who lets past threats hang over their team OR a leader who correctly identifies poor behaviour, apologises for it and looks to find a better way forward.
I know which leader I would prefer to work for.
The reason leaders threaten is obvious – they want to improve performance and a sense of urgency in their teams. It is not that they are bad leaders who want to cause pain and suffering to all those who work for them. No – most of them just want to generate better results.
And in the short term, this can work. But it will NEVER last – It can’t. When people don’t feel safe and only look after their self interest, it is impossible for a team like this to be high performers for any length of time.
What is needed is a positive re-frame: transform from threatening tactics that extrinsically motivate… to high performance environments that intrinsically motivate. A leader will need to identify and then implement the best possible environment for their team to perform at the highest level possible, over the short-term AND long-term.
Demonstrate you have their back
Actions speak louder than words
The leader who encourages creativity… the leader who will ensures their team is safe… the leader who will take accountability when times are tough and give credit when the good times roll in…
Is the leader who has a team that would shed blood, sweat and tears for them
Putting it all together
We live in a high stress world, where nothing ever seems to be good enough. As a leader, if you allow your team to feel they are never good enough or threatened in any way, you are destroying the potential performance level of your team.
When your team don’t feel safe, they will not be creative, they will not be collaborative, they will not have each others’ backs, they will not perform well.
There is another way – Build a circle of trust with your team. Create an environment where they can be at their very best… That is after all…. a leader’s job.