Real Leaders

How to Navigate the Leadership Bermuda Triangle and Give Better Employee Feedback

Employee performance feedback is vital to growing a sustainable business. Managers know this, yet 69% are uncomfortable communicating with their employees, according to an Interact survey. More than a third report that they’re wary of giving feedback employees might respond to negatively.

So, how can managers improve employee satisfaction with feedback processes if they won’t talk to their teams?

Uncomfortable managers will avoid employee performance management, which could lead to division and derision among subordinates, especially if departmental and organizational goals aren’t being met. This ultimately impacts productivity and quality, which can drag your company down into the Leadership Bermuda Triangle.

What Is the Leadership Bermuda Triangle?

The Bermuda Triangle is located between Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico in the Atlantic Ocean. The area is known for a high occurrence of tropical storms and hurricanes that bring down even the most well-equipped ships.

A few years ago, two of Harrison’s executive coaches and global trainers, Rick Tate and Julie White, Ph.D., observed a pattern emerging from leaders struggling with employee performance management. There was a consistent pattern of three out-of-balance paradoxes that contributed to managers not setting clear expectations, not effectively holding employees accountable, and creating cultures of dependency that were clearly self-defeating. They dubbed the behavioral pattern the “Leadership Bermuda Triangle.”

The Leadership Bermuda Triangle can similarly sink your ship. Like its near-mythical counterpart, the Bermuda Triangle of Leadership occurs when captains steer their crews through dangerous forces of nature. Leaders are often unaware of their weaknesses to these forces.

Fortunately, there are four ways to tell if your performance management style is destined for a watery grave:

1. Low accountability, high empathy.

When leaders fail to hold employees accountable, productivity and performance suffer. It’s great to foster a friendly environment at work, but it’s important to maintain authority so employees don’t take advantage of permissive management and assume that everything they do is OK.

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2. Low certainty, high reflectiveness.

Sometimes leadership fails to confidently and properly communicate expectations to everyone on the team. This is easy to do in fast-paced work environments where things are constantly changing. At the same time, leaders might be open to feedback and willing to listen. This leads to employees who are unsure of what to say or do.

3. Low assertion, high helpfulness.

Some managers love to roll up their sleeves and get work done alongside their crews. This can exhibit great leadership, but it can also cause employees to feel unsure or even become complacent. They already compare themselves to peers, and now they’re also comparing themselves to their bosses. This can lead to unnecessary stress placed on managers for “expected” help, lack of development or skills loss among the crew, and, worst case, an environment of resentful behavior.

4. Low frankness, high diplomacy.

Occasionally, leadership tries to soften uncomfortable conversations. Beating around the bush or sugarcoating issues can be perceived as refusing to provide straight answers. Although diplomacy is valuable, a lack of directness and getting to the point causes distrust. You might find your best talent abandons ship when they are unclear about expectations and lose confidence in their manager.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, don’t worry. There is a solution: fostering self-awareness and soliciting a 360-degree employee feedback loop.

Addressing Leadership Paradoxes

Effective leaders drive organizational performance, and they feel a special kind of pressure while bearing a heavy load of responsibility. Essentially, you’re just a human being like everybody else, but your employees view you as something of a superhero. The further up the ladder you go, the stronger the admiration. This leaves you to balance leadership paradoxes (i.e., contradictory behaviors) that, if out of balance, can contribute to difficulties giving and receiving employee feedback.

For instance, you must take pride in your abilities while recognizing your team’s work. You must develop close relationships with subordinates while also maintaining a professional distance. You must treat everyone equally while respecting their individualism. And you must extend flexibility while also meeting deadlines and getting the job done.

Balancing opposing behaviors can improve manager-employee communication and relationships. But how do you accomplish this when the behaviors seemingly contradict each other? Let’s dig a bit deeper to navigate these complicated leadership paradoxes.

Examples of Feedback to Improve Performance

Providing employee feedback means maintaining warmth and approachability while also enforcing company rules to ensure work is done correctly and on time. If you dive straight into hard-to-swallow critiques, employees might become defensive and won’t be as receptive. If all you do is praise employees, on the other hand, then they’ll never grow.

A manager giving employee feedback should start with a caring statement, such as, “I want to see you develop the skills to climb the ladder.” Or, “I’m consistently impressed with how well you do your job.” This ensures the person feels like a valued member of the team instead of another squeaky cog in the wheel.

You must be a compassionate enforcer who can adapt and react to whatever steps the employee takes from there. If they improve, continue helping and encouraging them. But if they don’t, you need to get to the bottom of what might be causing the performance issues. Try asking what they feel they need to excel at their job. Show that you care about their success.

Above all else, you must learn how to get comfortable giving feedback. You should always be assertive and truthful while enforcing the rules fairly and consistently. People need a direct yet tactful guide to lead them through the perpetually unknown. But once you come out the other side, you’ll see the return on your efforts. Businesses that regularly utilize employee feedback have 14.9% lower turnover rates, and 68% of employees who receive consistent and accurate feedback experience job fulfillment.

The Leadership Bermuda Triangle is a dangerous place that leaders should avoid, though they are often unaware of these unseen areas or derailers. If managers find themselves excelling at one aspect of leadership while struggling in another, then they’re likely managing reactively instead of proactively, resulting in dysfunction, distrust, and stress. Thankfully, you can avoid the Bermuda Triangle and grow into a competent leader by learning, accepting, and proactively addressing uncomfortable truths during employee feedback.

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