This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
As a leader, what do you expect from your direct reports?
Most leaders want employees who take the initiative, get involved, make decisions and generate ideas. In fact, because your team is likely made up of educated, competent, seasoned employees (some of whom you may have hand selected), it’s natural to expect that they would need little direction to take the proverbial ball and run with it. You have a vested interest in their success because, when your team performs well, everyone wins.
Likewise, employees of all generations share a desire to work autonomously toward the communicated vision. No one wants to feel as if they’re operating under someone else’s thumb, especially team members who are smart, ambitious and motivated.
If autonomy is an essential ingredient for promoting employee engagement and motivation, and given that both leaders and employees desire empowered environments, what keeps leaders from encouraging self-sufficiency in their employees? The short answer is a skewed perception of reality.
The breakdown often begins when leaders don’t see their employees making decisions and taking action quickly enough, or in the same way the leader would do it. In this situation, you understandably might question the motivation behind the employee’s lack of autonomy. Some executives I’ve coached have told me they wonder if their employees don’t care, if they’re not ambitious or competent enough to do the job. They often assume their employees need or want more direction because they seem to require help or feedback before moving forward. In other words, leaders often feel the problem is with their employees, not them.
Admittedly, there could be a lack of competence, experience or motivation on the employee’s part, but my coaching experience has shown me that poor communication and performance results most often from an interaction between the team’s and leader’s behaviors.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that certain leadership behaviors can actually squash autonomy and motivation, leading to a disempowered work environment and frustration for everyone involved. The reality is your leadership behaviors may be unintentionally contributing to employees’ lack of action. This is a hard pill for many leaders to swallow.
It’s important to recognize your role in fostering an empowered and autonomous work environment and to ensure that you’re interacting with your employees in ways that positively drive engagement and performance.
Below are five real-world examples of behaviors that kill employee engagement, and how to avoid them:
1. You undermine employees’ decisions.
A problem comes up at a meeting and the team leader for that area is not present. In an effort to help, you unknowingly suggest a solution that differs from what the leader of the team had planned.
Although well-intended, encroaching on others’ decision space can have a detrimental impact on the leaders who “own” those areas, undermining their credibility. If employees think their decisions will be questioned or overturned, they will be less motivated to take action in the future.
Clearly define each employee’s areas of responsibility and honor that decision space by redirecting questions and issues back to the appropriate leader for discussion.
2. You take over when the job’s not getting done fast enough.
You’re up against a tight deadline and your employee’s effort seems to have stalled. You feel the pressure to get things going again or risk falling behind schedule, so you decide it would be best to do the work yourself.
When responsibilities are “taken away” from employees, it can cause feelings of inadequacy and doubt. If employees feel you’ve lost confidence in them, they are less likely to act autonomously in the future.
Instead, have an open conversation with your employee. Ask empowering questions and allow them to generate solutions and implement ideas to move the project forward.
3. You perpetuate a risk-averse environment.
Your employees know that “failure isn’t an option.” Because they don’t want to disappoint you or let the team down, employees may delay making decisions or appear wishy-washy by changing their minds.
When people worry about making “wrong” decisions or are warned that they’re ultimately responsible if something fails, they’re likely to avoid taking action due to fear.
When you create a safe environment to take risks and encourage innovation, employees express more creativity and try innovative solutions.
4. You fail to delegate effectively.
In your mind, delegation means getting tasks off your plate and assigning them to others for completion. Because you assume your staff is capable, it can be easy to leave out key details that will ensure success, such as clearly defined expectations, outcomes and due dates for deliverables.
Ensure that your expectations are clear and that employees are both interested in and capable of handling the task. When you play to people’s strengths and set them up for success they will happily run with the ball.
5. You become a bottleneck.
You want to ensure your team produces quality results, which is why you ask employees to provide regular updates on their projects. But in doing so, you unintentionally slow down their ability to move forward without your stamp of approval.
Trusting your employees’ expertise will empower them to make a decision and move things forward in alignment with your vision, without the need for constant feedback.
Remember, your job as the leader is to clearly articulate the vision, goals and purpose of the work, and build buy-in with your team so they can take positive action. Once employees have clarity on your expectations, it’s best to get out of their way and allow them to exercise autonomy to find solutions on their own.