Article by Jason Lauritsen
When you’re a leader, you may sometimes feel as if you are trying to navigate an environment of constantly changing circumstances and landscapes. It can be a disorienting and confusing experience.
Navigating new terrain requires new tactics, but trying new approaches when it comes to leading people feels risky. What if we get it wrong? As a result, we tend to default to what we have always done. We fall back on old leadership rules we observed or were programmed with long ago.
In my work with clients, I have witnessed the harsh results of outdated leadership rules. With the best of intentions, leaders often end up sabotaging their own efforts to understand and engage their employees.
To help you avoid these same mistakes, here are three leadership rules that are meant to be broken:
1. Fake It Until You Make It
I’m not sure where I first heard this, but I’ve said it a few dozen times since then. In my early career as a copier salesperson, it sort of worked. It meant acting as if I knew what I were doing and showing confidence even when I was scared and unsure. When you are learning to make door-to-door cold calls, this is pretty valuable advice. If I could fake it long enough, I might just sell a copier and start to develop real confidence.
But what’s good for early career sales is toxic for leadership. Employees today have lived much (if not all) of their lives in a world colored by spin and scandal. To survive, they’ve all learned to spot a phony from a mile away.
For that reason, trying to fake it as a leader is deadly. When you are unsteady or uncertain, it is far better to acknowledge it than try to pretend your way through it. Showing vulnerability and a willingness to ask for help when you need it is a sign of strength that will create loyalty.
Frankly, you don’t really have a choice. Even if you think you have everyone fooled, you haven’t. The people you lead are onto you, even if they aren’t telling you. Be authentic. Be vulnerable. There is no faking that.
2. Only Recognize Top Performers
When I was growing up, I loved playing basketball. I spent countless hours playing and practicing. I was committed to playing, and I played hard.
There was only one problem: I wasn’t very good.
In the summer, I would attend basketball camps. At the end of each camp, the coaches would give out awards. I was never the highest scorer or leading rebounder. My stats never added up to much. Despite that, on two occasions, I was given the “hustle” trophy. To this day, I am more proud of those awards than any sales award I gained in my early sales career. They represented that despite my limited abilities, I had outworked everyone else on the floor with me, and my coaches valued my efforts.
It has been widely held management dogma for decades that the best way to fuel performance is to visibly recognize and reward your top performers, the idea being that this will motivate others to become top performers themselves. The problem, of course, is that the success of your organization rides on the effort of far more average performers.
Many of those average performers might be like me as a young basketball player – working really hard, but unable to produce exceptional results just yet. They deserve to feel valued. If you only recognize top performers without acknowledging the hustle, you are losing loyalty and engagement every day.
3. Never Be Friends With the People You Supervise (and I’m Not Talking About Facebook)
I can’t confirm this, but I think this rule probably came into existence during the golden age of rightsizing and downsizing. The thinking probably went something like this: “I probably shouldn’t get too attached to these people as a manager because there’s a good chance I’m going to have to do something horrible to them down the road.” Maybe that made sense in some twisted sort of way during the era when the psychological contract of long-term employment was torn up and burned.
But it’s a terrible rule to follow today. Employee engagement is the emotional and mental connection an individual feels with their work, and one of the keys to driving this connection is the relationship an employee has with their direct manager.
Friendship is defined as “a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people.” Our research shows that when employees feel cared about by their managers, they are significantly more likely to be engaged. I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be any boundaries in the manager-employee relationship, but if you treat your employees more like you treat your friends, you will be pleased with the results.
These are just a few of the leadership rules that should be broken. There are many others. When you come to one of those points at which you are uncertain what to do next to lead your people across new terrain, ask them. If they believe you are willing to listen, they will help you find the way.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Jason Lauritsen is the director of client success at Quantum Workplace, an accomplished keynote speaker, and the author of Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships. At Quantum Workplace, Jason is dedicated to providing every organization with quality engagement tools that guide their next step in making work better every day.