7 traps that snare the best bosses

Posted by on Jan 5, 2013

John is a turbocharged decision-maker. Whenever he chooses a course of action, he makes up his mind instantly.

Susan is the ultimate improviser. Whatever happens, she can adapt and adjust and say all the right things.

Mark is a great listener, and his door is always open.

Decisiveness, improvisation, emotional intelligence — they’re all good, right?

Sure they are. But when it comes to being a boss, too much of a good thing can produce some bad outcomes.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s painfully true: In an effort to do the right thing, managers often do just the opposite. Here are seven common traps:

Knowing the facts vs. closing your mind: Knowledge is a good thing, except when we know so much that we believe we just might know it all. Remember, you can be certain and be wrong. Keep your mind open to new ideas and information.

Being decisive vs. doing change to people: Decisiveness is a strength, but too much unilateral action by “the person in charge” is a sure way to get people to disengage. If you want them to think and care, involve them in decision-making and planning.

Improvising vs. acting rashly: Change is the only constant in today’s workplace, so it’s great to be good at improvising. But people who constantly make things up as they go along can get cavalier and end up causing problems. Know when to wing it and when to do your homework.

Showing empathy vs. losing objectivity: When it comes to emotional intelligence, a little listening can go a long way. But sometimes we try so hard to let people know we’re on their side that we get embroiled in the drama — and distracted from our work. By all means lend an ear, but not at the expense of your work role.

Nurturing a friendly atmosphere vs. ignoring the elephants in the room: We’d all like a workplace where people are nice to each other, but nice is not always good. Too many workgroups turn fake friendliness into an art form, covering up deep disagreements that produce long-term dysfunction. Instead of working extra hard to keep things pleasant, pursue civility and honesty.

Providing guidance vs. taking over: Every good manager wants people to succeed, but well-intended guidance can become a slippery slope. It starts when someone asks a question…and the boss begins to expound, explaining in detail what the person should do…and pretty soon the boss is doing it for them. When it comes to providing guidance that ensures learning, less is more.

Empowering vs. abandoning: Some managers are so determined to empower people that they turn up the trust and let people go about their work entirely on their own. The work usually gets done just fine, but people are left wondering why their boss shows so little interest. You don’t want to meddle, but you do want to show that you care.