5 Things to Give Up to Improve Engagement and Performance

Becoming a better leader is sometimes as simple as removing a few things from your behavior.

Recent data from Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workplace report (pdf) shows that a lack of engagement costs the global economy $8.1 trillion in lost productivity each year.

And here is the clincher:

Gallup has also found out that ca. 70% of this number is the direct result of bad management and bad leadership practices.

If you don’t want to be part of these shocking statistics, and if you want to be a better boss and improve your team’s engagement, performance, productivity and motivation, give up these five toxic habits:

1.   Being “busy”.

Being busy is a sort of social currency and status symbol for us. We’ve built this myth that being busy = value and importance. But being busy kills empathy.

Get this: Being busy, overworked and overwhelmed is a choice. And leading is also a choice. But leading is about TAKING THE TIME to hear and see people. Which takes us to #2:

2.   Multitasking

Because leadership is about taking the time to fully see and hear people, multitasking is one of the biggest killers of leadership. I wrote about the perils of multitasking in my article about trust and engagement so go ahead and re-read it. But here is a short reminder: Professor Earl Miller, one of the leading neuroscientists at the MTI who studied the impact of multitasking explained that the cost of multitasking is that “your performance drops, you’re slower. It degrades your attention and thinking by a startling amount by 20-30%” depending on the tasks.”

And if this isn’t bad enough, every time you interrupt your focus and switch your attention to something else, it takes you an average of 23 minutes to get back to the same level of focus you had before you were disturbed.

If you are wasting time like this in the name of “getting things done” stop and do the math.

No wonder you are so “busy” and “don’t have enough time” for your people.

Enough said.

3. Not being present

We are not only our jobs, but we are first of all human beings, wanting to connect on a human level with other people. If you are not present because you are either multitasking or lost in your internal commentary, you cannot connect in a meaningful way and people will know it. What they usually say about you then is that you “don’t listen” to them.

It is important to remember this because in many cases people do not need your solutions; they just need your ear, your caring presence and a container where they have psychological safety to speak up.

A great antidote to not being present is mindfulness: slowing down and being fully present with the people and the situation.

4.   Poor boundaries.

Not being present is often the result of not having clear boundaries. (See how these bad habits fuel one another?) Boundaries are rules that clarify what’s OK, what’s not OK, what’s allowed and what won’t be tolerated.

If you do not set and keep healthy boundaries, you will be overworked, frustrated and overstretched. And if you don’t counter-steer in time, you will slide into burnout, bitterness and even depression.

Nobody ever wanted to have a bitter, overreactive, overwhelmed boss!

When we have no healthy boundaries, we also set the unspoken expectation that others cannot have healthy boundaries either. That’s why as a leader you need to role-model healthy boundaries so that others feel safe setting and keeping their own.

And this leads us directly to #5:

5.   Being always “on”.

Are you really still at your best after 20 hours of work?

There are studies that show that after 10 hours the work-related accidents and serious professional mistakes skyrocket. And if you don’t sleep enough (for an average adult this would be around 7 hours a night) your reflexes and decision-making abilities are as good as when you are drunk.

But performance aside, taking breaks is simply healthy and promotes better work-life balance, not to mention better mental well-being – two things that are on top of your employee’s lists right now. Role-model taking healthy breaks or risk your own burnout or even losing your team members – your choice.

So here you have it: the 5 habits you need to purge from your behavior asap if you want to be a better boss and have a more engaged, motivated and high-performing team.

More for you:

Great video (just 4 min) by Arianna Huffington about the importance of sleep for leaders:  “How to Succeed? Get more Sleep”

Her book and other resources on sleep

Forbes article “Beyond the Brain: Mindfulness for Leaders”

Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Beware the Busy Manager”

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