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The five biggest mistakes leaders make with their staff

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

The clock was about to strike midnight as a few guests remained at our client party. I took pride in the fact that I enjoyed excellent working relationships with all of them. However, on that particular evening, one guest had been drinking heavily – to the point where he was unable to control himself. I became increasingly uncomfortable, trying to avert the strong stench of alcohol and unwelcome advances. I decided that enough was enough. Just like Cinderella, I fled from the ball; not caring about whether or not I'd left my "glass slipper" behind. I quietly told my CEO that I had to leave and briefly explained the circumstances. I was oblivious to the fact that she would keep the secret of my "premature" departure until the most inappropriate moment – my annual performance review.

It wasn't the first time that I had stayed at our corporate events until late in the evening. As employees, working until the wee hours without remuneration or recognition happened on several other occasions. The big difference this time was the manner in which my CEO brought up the issue of the inebriated client and my hasty departure from our work function – nine months after it occurred.

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My performance review was the catalyst for my decision to leave my job. A foreboding sense of disenchantment, disappointment and disillusionment came to a crescendo. To my amazement, my boss immediately brought up the issue of that evening. The incident had never previously been discussed. Instead of acknowledging my positive contributions along with constructive feedback regarding the year in review, she reprimanded me for leaving the party without giving me any opportunity to fully recount the events leading up to my decision. I shut down, switched off and began searching for a new job.

My own experience is a familiar story for many dedicated, talented employees who choose to leave their workplace. While it is true that employers cannot influence every factor, they could significantly impact the decreasing trend of job satisfaction (estimated by CareerBuilder at 59 per cent in 2014 down from 66 per cent in 2013) by correcting, or avoiding the following mistakes:

1. Punishing good performance

Leaders who "reward" hard-working, high-producing and fiercely loyal employees with more work, longer hours and no financial compensation often do so under the guise of opportunities for advancement or promotion – an outcome that rarely manifests. As a result, your best people burn out and lose faith in you and your organization. Being cognizant of their workload and efforts, addressing excess when it occurs shows a long-term commitment to your employee's future in the organization.

2. Providing more negative than positive feedback

Critiquing job performance is a leader's responsibility. Employees need to know what they can do to improve any aspect of their work. However, positive feedback is often preceded by higher doses of criticism, delivered in the "second person" narrative. Under these conditions, the employee is disinclined to participate in further conversation, as they reflect – or worse – ruminate upon deleterious comments. This is followed by a heightened sense of disengagement and ultimately complete disconnect. A leader's feedback should be relevant to business outcomes and sensitive to professional boundaries.

3. Lack of genuine appreciation and trust

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Employees who don't feel trusted, appreciated or valued are far less likely to be motivated to stay. As with mistakes No. 1 and 2, leaders can choose to operate differently by expressing a more caring attitude. Therefore, it is unsurprising to find that employees become increasingly dissatisfied when their desire to be acknowledged becomes a lower priority than the work itself. A heartfelt thank you goes a long way.

4. Ego-based leadership

Although many organizations now operate with a flattened management structure, one can still find leaders who, operate from a "me" rather than "we" perspective. Whether they are taking credit for an employee's idea, or failing to recognize the attractiveness of being a leader who has their employee's back, the damage caused by self-serving behaviour is extremely difficult to remedy. However, great leaders who surround themselves with people who possess skills they themselves do not have elevate the performance of the whole team.

5. Defaulting to a transactional approach

While professional and objective decision-making is paramount in the workplace, don't forget you and your employees are human. No matter how high tech our workplaces become, your organization's success is driven by people. A "do this, get paid" arrangement is a fact your team inherently understands. Unfortunately, too many leaders are oblivious to the importance of the relational aspect, lacking the ability to communicate and connect on a truly authentic level.

Michelle Ray (@michelleraycsp) is a Vancouver-based business keynote speaker, leadership expert, author and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute

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