A People-Leadership Perspective: 3 common leadership risks and how to deal with them

By Daphna Horowitz, CEO & Executive Coach, DHCC - Leadership Coaching and Consulting

As organizations continue to rely heavily on technology to drive business success, the role of the CIO (or equivalent) gains increasing importance.

Over and above using your specialist knowledge to ensure the organization’s technology strategy aligns with its business goals and to manage the day-to-day operations, you need to think about the people-leadership aspects of your role. This is an area that’s often ignored because of the pressing needs and challenges of a fast-paced, constantly changing environment. However, it is no less important in ensuring the long-term growth of your business.

Based on our experience of working with C-suite leaders across the globe, there are many people-leadership risks that modern day leaders face. In this article, we explore three of these risks and offer strategies to overcome them.

1.    The risk of a toxic leadership style

Leaders get hired for performance and fired for style

Many leaders are brilliant, visionary and know how to push themselves and their team to remain ahead of their game, manage team deliverables and respond to incidents fast. However, this comes at a cost. If you don’t pay attention to your leadership style and how it’s impacting your people, you land up with an disengaged, burnt-out and underperforming team.

A toxic leadership style is one that pushes employees to the limits in terms of hours worked, criticism for mistakes (even in public), belittling when asked questions that you think they should know the answers to, little patience and guidance in giving instructions, not allowing people space to think or question the approach you’re taking. This may get results in the short term, but over time, you’ll see your team burn-out and your best people leaving.

Even in high-pressure situations, your leadership approach can include time for discussion, caring about the well-being of your staff and appreciating their hard work. It includes, listening, guiding, being open to questions and discussion.

This can have a cascading effect as burnt-out managers lead their own teams in a similar style that creates more of the same. This creates a loss of trust with the ripple effect resulting in loss of productivity and revenues.

Strategies for managing this risk:

  1. Find time in your day to create a habit of personal reflection. Set a time to assess your leadership behaviours and impact – what did you do well? What could you have done better? And how would you do things differently next time?
  2. Get feedback about your leadership style – ask others what you’re doing that works well and what you could do better. Listen to people’s answers, decide what you can implement and start making small changes
  3. Provide opportunities for leadership development through leadership skills training, coaching and mentoring in group learning experiences or individually. Investing in your people shows that you care for and value them.

2.    The risk of ineffective communication

There’s no such thing as too much communication

You’ve just had an all-hands meeting, outlined the vision and goals of your business and inspired your people to get into action. A week later, you notice how little people remembered and find yourself repeating the same messages you spoke about. This happens again and again and you ask yourself, how can it be? I’ve said this already.

Sound familiar?

This is common. Important messages need to be repeated in order to stick. It doesn’t matter that you’ve said it before, say it again.

Leaders tend to err on the side of communicating too little rather than too much.

There are a number of reasons for this

  • Your focus is on moving forward and taking action. You don’t have time to stop and think what message needs to be communicated, to whom and in what way.
  • In times of change and uncertainty, there’s very little clarity about the future. At times, you have access to confidential information that can’t be shared further so you prefer to say nothing.
  • We tend not to share things that seem obvious because we think people already know. However, what’s obvious to you is often not obvious to others. You need to share more.

At times, you may share information but your communication lacks clarity and direction. Sometimes you may share things in a way that people can’t hear it. For example, if feedback is given insensitively or you ‘command’ people to do it your way. In this case you need to think about how to be more clear, specific and empowering in your communication.

The risk of ineffective communication is that people land up interpreting things wrong. This increases corridor talk and negativity with the result of reduced motivation, productivity and performance. Being open and transparent with your people goes a long way to building trust and a healthy culture.

Strategies for managing this risk:

  1. When undergoing any change process, develop a communication strategy to go with it. Think about what messages you can say, when and who to say them to. Even if you don’t have all the information, talk about the process or talk about the fact that you don’t have all the answers. Saying something is always better than saying nothing at all, which creates even more anxiety.
  2. Ask questions and really listen to what’s on people minds. Address concerns as much as you can and remember that listening doesn’t mean you have to do what people ask. When you listen, it gives people the feeling that they’re heard and valued even if you don’t commit to a course of action.
  3. Ensure your message is clear. Always think about the objective of your communication and how you can meet this objective in the simplest, shortest and clearest way.

3. The risk of Imposter Syndrome

Is the next big failure is just around the corner?

Imposter syndrome occurs when individuals feel like they’re not good enough, despite much evidence to the contrary. This leads to lack of confidence, procrastination and self-doubt.

Everyone has a voice inside their head that can either lift us up or tear us down. Too much negative self-talk can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to a cycle of self-doubt, anxiety and depression. It can also sabotage our goals and aspirations by convincing us that we’re not capable of achieving them.

Added to this is the sense of loneliness people in leadership positions often feel. As a leader, you need to keep a sense of optimism for your team and stakeholders. You’re left feeling alone with your worries and frustrations.

This feeling of loneliness together with imposter syndrome, can lead to putting others down, looking for somewhere to cast blame for what’s going wrong. This can create a toxic culture and erode trust and respect from your team.

Strategies for managing this risk:

  1. Identify the patterns and triggers that cause you to feel inadequate. Notice your tendency to overanalyze and criticize when you make mistakes or when things go wrong. Once you understand your negative self-talk habits, you can challenge them by questioning their validity and replacing them with positive messages instead.
  2. Model healthy confidence for your team members. By showing self-compassion and reframing negative thoughts into positive ones, you can inspire our team to do the same, thereby creating a supportive and collaborative work environment.
  3. If these feelings becomes pervasive, seek outside help. An objective, external professional, such as a coach or therapist, can offer validation and help you work through some of your

In conclusion, a leader’s role is constantly evolving and presents many challenges that must be addressed to ensure success. With the right leadership approach, resources and skills, these challenges can be overcome.

The key to success lies in maintaining a broader view of leadership beyond your area of expertise and taking the time to reflect on your approach to see how you can enhance it. With great leadership strategies in place, leaders can navigate the challenges and drive their organizations to success.

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