When Leaders Sabotage Teamwork

When Leaders Sabotage Teamwork

By Ken Chapman, Ph.D.

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A man took his young daughter to a carnival and she immediately ran over to a booth and asked for some cotton candy. As the attendant handed her a huge ball of it, the father asked, “Sweetheart, are you sure you can eat all of that?” “Don’t worry Dad,” she answered, “I’m a lot bigger on the inside than on the outside.”

The little girl didn’t necessarily mean to, but she gave us a memorable image of the importance of leaders being adults — being “bigger on the inside” regardless of their external size. One of the indicators that leaders may not be as “big on the inside” as they need to be is if the leaders, unconsciously and sometimes consciously, sabotage their own teams.

Team leaders support and enjoy the teamwork experience for the most part. But for some, giving up authority and control is a tough transition. Effective leaders have to constantly check to make sure that they aren’t clinging to old behaviors that can hurt their teams. The following are some subtle ways leaders can sabotage teamwork:

  1. Saving the Day — Some leaders are so accustomed to putting out fires that they miss the adrenalin rush of saving a project at the last minute. Therefore, they allow a situation to deteriorate to near failure only to jump in and save the day. Here’s my suggestion. If you find yourself rescuing your team again and again, find out why. Are you withholding information that would help members do their jobs? Do people need training to perform their duties more efficiently? Are you providing the appropriate level of coaching? Are you mentoring the people who need to be mentored?
  2. Hanging on to a Cherished Duty — Team leaders often hold onto fun tasks even though their time might be better spent elsewhere. There are some jobs that we all enjoy more than others so we tend to hold onto these jobs. We think that these preferred tasks will, at the very least, bring us a break in an otherwise tedious day. Here’s my suggestion: examine your favorite duties. Would you be more productive if you delegated some of them? If so, get started today. Team members will appreciate your giving them up. They may even realize you are making a sacrifice and you can move on to more important matters. One of the more common mistakes leaders make is to spend their time on things that can be done by others and fail to spend time on things that can only be done by the leader.
  3. Maintaining Rigid Policies — Few things kill teamwork faster than a fat policy manual. Rules and regulations may help you feel safe, but they will rarely give you the level of motivation and team spirit that is essential to crunch time. Here’s my suggestion: create team policies. Ask team members for input and explain the reason behind every rule. If you can’t explain the rule, it might well be that it should be thrown out.
  4. Holding Team Members to Standards Higher than Those You Hold Yourself To — Sometimes team leaders in their zeal to develop people or to raise accountability actually impose upon their team members standards they are not willing to meet themselves. In fact, some of these can amount to judging team members’ behavior more harshly than leaders judge their own behavior. A humorous take on this attitude looks like this: I’m okay; you’re not. Isn’t it funny that when someone else takes a long time to do something, he’s slow; when I take a long time, I’m thorough. When someone else skips a task, he’s lazy; when I skip one, I’m busy. When someone else takes on a duty without being told, he’s overstepping his bounds; when I go ahead and do something without being told, I have initiative. When someone else states his opinion strongly, he’s bullheaded; when I state my opinion strongly, I’m firm. When someone else overlooks a few rules, he’s irresponsible; when I let a few rules slide, I’m doing my own thing and adding a creative edge to the process. Leaders must be careful not to place themselves in the position of being legitimately accused of leading not by example, but by command. Ideally, the leader leads by example. Viable leaders must simply be “bigger on the inside” than they are on the outside.

Copyright Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

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For over 40 years Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc. has been making a measurable difference in the corporate cultures of American businesses and in the lives of their team members. KC&A’s value equation is “Committed to People, Profit, and More.”

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