Business Leadership Rooted in the Past Won’t Lead You to the Future


They say you’re not a leader if no one is following you. But in a business setting, doesn’t being ‘in charge’ automatically make you a leader?


Your employees are, in a way, forced to follow you. The job of a good leader is to make them want to follow you, not just do it to keep their jobs. What’s at stake here isn’t just having the best workers stick around longer, and deliver the best product or service to your industry.


What’s at stake is the quality of your workplace and its long term health and viability. In today’s scorching job market, qualified workers are becoming harder to find, and harder to keep.


It’s the job of business leadership and management to help your employees feel like your company is theirs. Give them a sense of ownership, and they will follow your leadership.


But what about your other leaders? How can you tell if your managers and executive staff are still running things like it’s 1987?


Here are four ‘old school’ ineffective management styles that are holding you back from creating the kind of workplace culture where employees love to be and take part in. Then, each one is followed by the ‘solution’ that will transform your company into one that leads from within.


4 Ineffective Business Management Styles


1. Military Style

The military functions well using top down positional authority. Do what the leader says, and everything works.


The problem of using this approach in a business setting is, your employees have a lot more expertise than a typical military recruit compared to their leaders. In other words, the gap in ability between military leaders and a common soldier is far greater than the gap between a business leader and the people working under them – in general.

Here’s why.

If your customers complain about your product or service, who hears those complaints? Not the leaders. The product quality and service complaints come to the lower level workers. Those same workers, and the ones on their teams, are the ones who will see the problem areas first. Given time, they will also start seeing solutions.

But if there’s no avenue or incentive to express those solutions, they’ll either get forgotten, lost, or ignored.

Also known as a ‘positional authority’ approach, this management practice can look like this:

A lower level employee comes to a manager with a problem and a solution for it. The manager listens, but then does nothing with it because that employee has much less education and fewer credentials, and they don’t see the “big picture.” So what can they possibly contribute? They just need to do their jobs and let us handle the hard stuff.

This approach builds little loyalty or ownership in your team members. Everything becomes leader-dependent. New ideas, new initiatives, product changes, vision, internal processes – including HR – the culture you’ll create around these things is one where the employees sit around waiting (and probably complaining because they felt unheard) for the leaders to change things that aren’t working.

It’s not a work environment that builds trust, collaboration, or teamwork. And it misses out on valuable insights and contributions that leaders often can’t see.

Management Solution: Empower your employees to be part of the process.

Let them contribute to problem-solving and procedural improvements both internal and external.


2. Overreliance on Sales Data and Experts

This style of leadership assumes that if you’re selling a lot of stuff, it must be good and your customers must like it.

How do we improve revenue under this model? Find ways to make the same thing for less money.

How do we improve sales? Expand territory and market share.

But this masks the flaws you can see in many companies and products today who have used this approach. If customers are buying it but end up hating it, what do they do? They complain – first to you (hopefully), and then when nothing changes, they turn to social media and review sites.

So, your sales start dropping once word gets out the product stinks or the service is bad. But companies that persist in this management style will draw the wrong conclusion from this data.

They’ll think they need to improve training, or hire better, or improve customer complaint handling. In other words, they blame the workers. The real problem is, the product has flaws, and no amount of training will fix it.

The real, real problem is much deeper than that. It’s one that entrusts the product or service development process only to the people on that team. Employees who are hearing it from customers, or if it’s internal, are using the HR system themselves – they are the ones who experience the flaws firsthand. They can tell the leaders what’s wrong, in graphic detail.

But, will they be listened to if they speak up?

Management Solution: Obsess over continuous quality improvement.

Don’t rely on huge changes all at once. Incorporate feedback from customers and employees, and continually make changes to never stop improving.

When your employees see their contributions actually making a difference, they will feel heard and respected. The result? They feel a sense of ownership. And that’s where loyalty comes from.


3. Unattainably Results-Driven

This would be like a football coach demanding more touchdowns but then asking all his receivers to catch the ball the exact same way every time.

Sometimes, the situation demands improvisation or creativity. Sometimes he’ll have to jump. Sometimes there will be someone in the way. Sometimes it’s a bad throw.

To be clear, being results-driven is fine. But results must be attainable. Attaining desired results becomes harder when employees feel boxed in and restricted. When it’s more about the role and “who’s job is that” rather than motivating everyone to chase after the same goal, and doing whatever it takes to achieve it.

If everyone is afraid of making mistakes, or worried about who will get credit for a good idea, these are signs your company is being led using this management style. You don’t want employees competing with each other. You want them pursuing specific goals as a team, achieving them, feeling great about it and being told so, and then moving on to the next one.

A more open, team-building, strengths-utilizing approach is the one that believes good ideas can come from anywhere, and that we need to create systems and processes that will bring them to the surface. Frequently.

Management Solution: Provide continuous skill building and team-centered goals and values.


4. Formalized Performance Reviews

If performance reviews only happen at consistent and predictable times per year, the value of that feedback greatly diminishes.

Continuous improvement only happens with continuous feedback that’s in the moment. If a leader learns of an employee or team who achieved a goal, there’s no reason to wait two months to tell them about it.

Conversely, if an employee messes up, why make them wait two months to hear about it? They want to know what they can do to improve now, not stew about it or wonder if their job is in jeopardy.

Management Solution: Give consistent and informal feedback as well as formal

Deliver feedback in the moment, more frequently, and address both positives and negatives from a problem-solving approach that seeks continuous improvement, rather than from a fearful position of the leader looking down on and evaluating the performance of the employee.

Obviously there’s a place for that if performance lags over time. But in the day to day, that’s not the approach that produces the culture of growth and sense of ownership you want.


What about when an employee really does mess up?

Here are 7 tips for how to deliver negative employee feedback


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