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Don’t Let These Three Common Mistakes Undermine Your Leadership Presence

Overused assets can ruin a positive leadership presence

You work hard to set a positive example for your team. You care about success, and you want your people to succeed. You’ve clarified what matters most and you’re committed to accountability. You’re intentional about your culture. But somehow, your leadership presence isn’t working. You don’t have the connection or influence you hope for.

What’s happening?

Committed, caring, hard-working leaders often have one of three problems interfere with their influence. If any of these issues sound familiar, you can readily overcome them with a few straightforward solutions.

Leadership Presence Mistake #1—Tunnel Vision

Focus is a useful leadership skill, but too much of a good thing becomes a liability. Leaders with tunnel vision can focus on a task and forget about what’s happening to people. Or they obsess on one aspect of their culture but lose awareness of other elements.

If you’ve built up trust and your people believe in your mission, some moments of tunnel vision can help your team reach new heights. But if you don’t widen your view regularly, your people will start to feel ignored.

Antidotes to Tunnel Vision

If you are a leader who gets super-focused and tends to lose sight of your people or the big picture, here are some questions you can ask:

  • What are people feeling right now?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What’s the big picture here–what truly matters right now?
  • What will matter most in five or ten years?
  • Where do I need to stretch and grow as a leader?

Each of these questions reconnects you to the bigger picture of your people, the work you’re doing, and your growth.

Leadership Presence Mistake #2—Emotional Splash

Emotional splash is the unproductive drama, negativity, frustration, and stress that you unintentionally dump on other people. We call it “splash” because it’s a little like when a dog comes out of the water. It shakes back and forth to dry off and splashes all that water on whatever (or whoever) is nearby. For many leaders, emotional splash comes from their intensity and drive-useful attributes, but ones that need to be managed.

Emotional splash takes many forms.

Recently, we were in a retail store where a partial wall divided the customer-facing counter from the back of the store. The staff in front cringed (along with all the customers) as their manager berated an employee. The manager wasn’t wrong about the performance issue, but he splashed his frustration all over his customers and the rest of the team (not to mention the employee who needed feedback, but not humiliation).

It’s also the worked-up manager who storms into a meeting, cuts people off, and snaps at her team–not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because her boss treated her poorly. Or the leader who feels stressed and overwhelmed and so spins up a cyclone of drama to make sure their team feels the same way.

All this emotional splash sucks the energy out of people, limits productivity, and undermines your credibility.

Antidotes to Emotional Splash

Emotional splash can be difficult to overcome because you’re not always aware of it. If you suspect you’re prone to emotional splash, a DIY 360 Listening Tour can help. Be sure to listen and simply say “thank you” as people answer your questions.

  • Get help–you don’t need to bottle up your stress (it will still come out somewhere). Process it. With a friend, a professional, in the gym, or on the trail. (Here are more ways to manage your leadership stress.)
  • Plan for your performance conversations (use our INSPIRE Method).
  • Hold performance conversations privately.
  • Ask yourself: “Am I being the leader I’d want my boss to be?”

This final question is a self-diagnostic tool. If a leader you respect were acting the way you are now, would they still have your respect? If not, there’s a good chance you can make a different choice to better serve your team and the results you want.

Leadership Presence Mistake #3—Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity is a relentless optimism that ignores or negates other emotions. Once again, optimism can be healthy and powerful. After all, a belief that together we can have a better tomorrow is at the heart of leadership. However, if you insist on positivity to the exclusion of other emotions like grief, frustration, or what Adam Grant popularized as languishing, you will probably alienate most of your team.

Those non-positive emotions are there for a reason. They have a job to do. Ignoring them or wishing them away won’t help your team be more productive. Over time, doing so makes you less trustworthy.

Antidotes to Toxic Positivity

1. Reflect to connect.

If toxic positivity ignores all but positive emotions, healthy positivity does the opposite. Reflect to connect is to acknowledge emotions. For example, “It sounds like you’re feeling pretty discouraged by the results of the …” Or, reflecting a positive emotion: “Wow, sounds like you’re super excited by the opportunity to …”

When you reflect to connect, you acknowledge emotional reality. You connect with a common starting point–how the other person or team feels.

2. Communicate confidence.

Healthy positivity starts with acknowledging genuine emotion, then builds on it with confidence. This may be your belief in your team. It may be the way you’re addressing a situation. Maybe you don’t have the answer yet, but you believe the team can find one.

This isn’t blind hope. What is the basis for your confidence? For example, “I believe in us because when we solved that challenge, we proved we can handle this one.”

3. Engage to empower.

Toxic positivity robs people of power by negating their feelings. A healthy approach to positivity returns power to people. You can do this by asking your team for their input. For example:

  • “How can we do this in a way we’ll be proud of?”
  • “How might we help our colleagues to solve that problem?”
  • “What are your thoughts about how to …?”

Asking these questions from a sincere place of curiosity engages and re-empowers your team.

Your Turn

A powerful leadership presence gives people confidence in themselves and their collective future. That confidence starts by managing yourself and ensuring your normally healthy focus, drive, and optimism don’t become liabilities.

We’d love to hear from you: Are there other common mistakes that undermine a positive leadership presence?

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