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Workplace Dysfunction: Are You the Culprit?

You work extremely hard, under intense pressure, to deliver on your objectives. But in the process, could you unwittingly sabotage your employees' success? Use these best practices to lead effectively -- without being a you-know-what:

If you run a workplace or a team where people are constantly in conflict, where backstabbing and gossip are the norm and morale is low, it's often a result of poor management. They say a fish rots from the head down, so if you want to see more from your team, you may need to look inward and determine if you are setting the tone for bad behavior.

Business leaders have to manage a great deal of stress, and stress often leads to a short fuse, anger and negative behaviors. Stressed-out people can be overly emotional, they can have a short fuse, and they often find it's easy to relieve some of the pressure by lashing out at employees. Fortunately, controlling your own actions and reactions is doable, once you become self-aware. If your workplace is dysfunctional, you can turn it around by adjusting your own approach.

Don't React, Respond

Employees will make serious and very frustrating mistakes from time to time, but lashing out isn't productive. In fact, it will only breed resentment. Yelling and blaming won't fix problems; developing new behaviors will. So, no matter how dunderheaded a mistake might be, use those situations as opportunities to help employees learn and grow, rather than losing your cool.

Sit down with an employee when they make a mistake and talk about what went wrong. Allow them to have input and offer their ideas about where things took a turn. Then, go through the steps they can take to correct the mistake today and the actions they can take to prevent the same mistake in the future.

Keeping perspective in the face of frustration is also important for modeling good behavior. If small problems send you from happy to threat-level red in a matter of seconds, your employees will learn that it is acceptable to act out when they are frustrated, and your managers will learn is acceptable to yell at and lecture their subordinates, as well. Always model the behaviors you want to see in your team and adopt the philosophy that you will respond to problems, rather than reacting to them.

Tell Employees What You Want, Not What You Don't Want

Negative words breed negative energy. Instead of telling employees how not to do something or what they shouldn't have done, focus on what you do want. Which approach in the examples below do you think will get the desired result?

Pat, you shouldn't have pulled the numbers from the database for this report on Thursday morning. I went into my leadership meeting with inaccurate reports because you worked ahead and didn't wait until Friday morning to use the correct data. It made me look foolish. Don't let it happen again.
Pat, I would have said something sooner, but I didn't notice until I was in my leadership meeting that the numbers in this report were incorrect. I appreciate your eagerness to get the report done early but it's best to wait until first thing Friday morning to pull the data, so we have the freshest numbers possible. I just wanted to let you know the situation, so you can adjust your schedule for next week.

The first example makes you sound like a jerk boss. In the second example, you let Pat know what went wrong and you explained why it's so important to correct the process, and you did so without using any negative language. You also recognized that Pat was likely trying to do something positive, but inadvertently made a mistake. Pat now knows how to correct the issue, and she doesn't walk away with negative feelings about the interaction.

Provide Ongoing Feedback

Don't wait until an employee completes a month-long project to tell them they did it the wrong way and make them feel like they wasted hours of effort screwing up. If you want employees to deliver, and if you want them to improve their performance over time, you've got to check on their progress and provide actionable, usable feedback along the way.

Check in periodically and ask how things are going, ask them to bring you their questions, and more importantly, ask if the employee needs anything from you to complete the project successfully. Don't micromanage the project, however. Provide enough space for the employee to do the job to the best of their ability.

Solicit Candid Feedback

It can be hard to take an objective look at your leadership style. You may think you are a master of motivation and support; meanwhile, your employees have a veritable litany of unflattering nicknames they use for you when you're not around. To become more self-aware, you must go directly to the source to find out what your employees think about your leadership style.

If you're serious about feedback, create anonymous surveys so you can receive honest, objective input. Let your employees know you are working towards becoming a more effective leader and you need their candor to get you on the right track.

If you do receive feedback that burns, do your best to put your ego aside. Remember, this isn't personal -- it's about you successfully leading your team and achieving your organizational goals. Provide employees with future surveys to monitor your progress and further show your commitment to improving.

Toxic behaviors are extremely dangerous to the productivity and morale of your workplace. It is possible to be assertive and demand exceptional work, but you can also maintain positive relationships and model good behavior. By focusing on improving your leadership style, you can start to eliminate dysfunction in your workplace.