Salt Lake City—It’s easy to see the detrimental effect a toxic boss has on a workplace, but sometimes leaders with the best of intentions can create the same kinds of problems, said New York Times best-selling author Liz Wiseman at the Qualtrics X4 Summit Thursday.
“Most of the diminishing that’s happening in our companies and communities and schools isn’t coming from the tyrannical, bullying boss,” she said. “Most of it is coming with the best of intentions from people trying to be good bosses but who are diminishing the people around them.”
Those “best of intentions” include having lots of big ideas with the expectations that others will have similarly ambitious ideas, but employees most frequently end up getting little done because their time is spent chasing each of the boss’ ideas; thinking they are rescuing their team from uncomfortable meetings or situations but are stunting employees’ growth by not allowing them to grow from those experiences; having such a grand vision for the future that others don’t need to think; or being so optimistic about projects or trajectory that employees are forced to bear the burden of the less-rosy details, creating a much different and more troubling experience for them.
“Having these tendencies doesn’t make you a diminisher, but it means you’re vulnerable,” said Wiseman. “If you’re being an accidental diminisher, you’ll be the last to know. Your team knows. Your team has meetings about this, and you are not invited to these meetings. Some of the people around you are in therapy over this.”
People tend to judge themselves based on their intentions but others based on the result of their actions, she said, so leaders should take a hard look at what their effects actually were rather than what they intended them to be. Wiseman said leaders should also take care to be aware of how their employees are faring in terms of workload and morale rather than assuming everyone is faring the same as they are.
“The leader is stretched thin, but the people around them are underutilized. Instead of giving them more work, which is exhausting, give them harder work, which stretches them,” she said. “We find people do their best work when they’re stretched and uncomfortable and off-balance. Maybe instead of taking all the stretch, you give it to your team and allow others to have a more difficult and challenging and yet exhilarating and fun experience.”
Wiseman said good leaders know to give responsibility to team members, but great leaders resist the urge to take back control when things go wrong. Instead, she said, leaders should help guide employees and help them work through them.
“My team at work, they didn’t need me telling them what to do, they needed me to ask intelligent questions,” she said. “it is so easy to be pulled into the role of the genius, playing big so others play small.
“If you want to create experiences where everyone is at their best, don’t be the genius, be the genius-maker,” she added. “Create experiences that are more difficult and challenging and stretch others and make them better. Because don’t we all want to be part of that experience?”