The 5 things leaders never want to hear from their teams

I have had some great leaders. One of my favourite leaders of all time is a personal called Pat (let’s use that name – it happens to be their real name ?). Pat was the human that shared with me the power of languaging, and how to listen to what people are really saying. Pat shared that sometimes it is blatantly obvious, and at other times, not so much. Pat’s coaching is some of the reason that we now focus so much on languaging as part of our leadership workshops and training. In relation to the blatant comments that team members make, there are some that should move you to action, Pat explained. And they really are things that you don’t want to hear from you team. 

The big (and worrying) things that team members say to their leaders include: 

1. I don’t feel valued 

This is a tough one and goes straight to the solar plexus. If you follow any of my work at all, you will understand how importantly I take the word value/s. Our values drive our behaviour, and one of our greatest human needs is to feel valued. Particularly by our leader. 

What feeling valued is all about is feeling heard. This section could be “I don’t feel heard” but not feeling valued is a more common statement made by team members who don’t feel like they have a voice.  

Feeling valued is related to the psychological safety aspect of leadership, and it is about making it safe for team members to both contribute (with ideas or opinions) and to challenge the norms (being creative and innovative). Leaders that lead with low psychological safety will end up with team members that don’t feel valued, because they don’t feel like what they say ever matters. 

Leader action: When you are with your team, either 1:1 or in a group setting, please be present. Be focused. Be a listener. Listen with an open heart and an open mind. You might not like what you hear, but it helps your team members feel valued if you are able to hold the space and listen without judgement.  

2. I don’t feel cared for 

This is another tough one. It is not as common as the first one, but it happens, and leaders hear it (or team members tell other team members this… and the leader might not ever know). Being cared for is another human need, and one that, when violated, has an adverse impact on the team member. Who might check out or give up. 

Feeling cared for is related to the psychological connection aspect of leadership, and it is about making time for team members. Yes, making time. Scheduling time with team members (both 1:1 and as a team) is a critical element of leadership, and when that is ignored or forgotten, your team feel like their leader doesn’t care. Team members might say that they are not a priority for their leader, or that their leader is too busy for them. Ouch. 

Leader action: Jump into your calendar and schedule 1:1 meetings with your team members. And schedule team meetings. Schedule those meetings for the same time each week, month, or fortnight, and aim to attend every meeting. And please don’t reschedule them… and then reschedule again… (yes, that happens). 

3. I don’t feel supported 

This is an interesting one, that can relate to a range or issues. The main area that this one is related to is career progression. For the team member who has big career ambitions, this is a big one. And it is tough for the leader team member dynamic when there is a misalignment on career progression, and pathways.  

The other situations that might leave a team member feeling unsupported included during times of big projects or big decisions. With big projects or big decisions, team members need some level of direction. Yes, it might be minimal. But direction is important. I work with leaders at all levels of organisational charts, and they all need direction from their leaders, and struggle without it.  

In our coaching sessions, I always ask our coachees if they feel like they have their leader’s support. Most of the time it is a yes, but at times it is a no. And in these situations, my coaching is, to not go out on a limb too far when making a decision, or taking an action, in case the branch breaks. Without leader support, team members can become very isolated very quickly. And can overstep boundaries or levels of responsibility. For more guidance on this one, see the book ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott. Where Scott talks about the balance between caring and direction. 

Leader action: If a team member doesn’t feel like you support their career, have a career conversation, to help you get clearer on how you can support them. If it is a big project or big decision, don’t say ‘I’ll let you decide’. It a team members asks for guidance, please give it to them, as best as you can. 

4. I don’t feel like I make a difference 

This is more sad than anything. This is another statement around human needs not being met. We all want to feel like our work matters to someone, particularly our leaders and our organisation.  

Feeling like we make a difference is related to the psychological empowerment aspects of leadership, and it is team members feeling like their work makes an impact, and that their work has a level of meaning. I know I have felt like this in the past, in some roles, where I questioned how much of a difference I was making to the team or the business. It is hard to show up each day when we feel like we don’t really matter, and that no-one would notice if we didn’t show up… 

Leader action: If a team member doesn’t feel like they are making a difference, it is important to find out why, and how that can be addressed. There might be an explanation around why the team member’s work matters, or why it is valued. 

5. I don’t feel empowered 

This is perhaps the easiest of the big 5 listed here, to deal with as a leader. Feeling un-empowered means not feeling like you have the right level of responsibility. Not being trusted. Or not given adequate decision-making ability. Sometimes, this statement can relate to not feeling fully utilised in the role. The team member might be saying that they have got more to offer. 

Feeling empowered is also related to the psychological empowerment aspects of leadership (competence and self-determination), and it is related to team members feeling like they are hamstrung in their role, and that they can’t act without the direction of their leader, instead of being trusted by their leader to make decisions that relate to their role. A lack of empowerment can be the result of very transactional leadership styles. 

Leader action: If a team member doesn’t feel empowered, this is a sign that they feel like you don’t trust them to step up and make the decisions that they need to. And that might be the case, so work out how you can develop more trust in that team member. Or how you can give them more decision-making responsibility. 

There you have it. The things we don’t want to hear as leaders. And of course, the action plan on how to address each one of them.  

Which one is important to you, and which one have you heard from a team member? 

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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