How to Stop Being A Hard-Nosed Leader

There are still some of them out there. I truly hope you’re not one of them…but hard-nosed leaders are not good for business anymore.

Hard-nosed leaders are the type of people who order and bully employees around which depletes staff of any positive energy they first had when they arrived at work.

Hard-nosed leaders are also prone to not giving any recognition to people.

If you want genuine and well received recognition to work with your employees, it is going to require shaking off old school management styles and plain stopping those individuals who are the hard-nosed leaders.

Changing Styles For Different Times

Perhaps there was a case for being the taskmaster in the machine age of the last century. There was only one way of operating machines safely and efficiently to produce the widget outputs needed within a specific time frame.

Managers and employees were in close proximity so they were able to oversee the people they managed. Time spent and work outputs were easy to measure and so were exchanged for basic wages.

Today, however, there is a greater need for leaders versus managers. Leaders must shift their style to meet employee needs. Now it is a matter of inspiring people and building trust so employees find meaning in their jobs and can reciprocate by giving their best work to employers.

Employees may rarely see their leader-manager in our information and virtual age. But through the various communication technologies available leaders are constantly in touch with employees. Depending on their leadership style, they are either well connected or totally disengaged from one another.

If you find you have any tendencies to still be a hard-nosed leader or you work for someone who is, follow these few ideas to encourage the required change.

1. Be Open and Willing to Change

Hard-nosed leaders are stick-in-the-mud type people.

You, or they, can no longer live or work doing the same old, same old.

The key to succeeding today is to constantly be prepared to change.

John Kotter, Emeritus Professor in organizational science and change management at Harvard University, said, “The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.” 

Whether it is with implementing the latest leadership and management theories and practices or learning new technologies, always be learning. Think on the different devices, apps and upgrades you’ve had to learn.

In the past, the total reward paradigm fostered a transactional relationship between managers and employees. Work outputs were generated and that was all you got paid for. Hence, the attitude of, “we pay them enough, what more do they want?” when the topic of recognition arises.

Now, leaders are expected to be much more transformational. Leaders want to help people develop their talents, become more innovative and create new ideas.

Paying for talent is far more complex than for widgets. But a combination of recognition and rewards with meaningful work engages employees.

With social media and online recognition programs employees want to hear validation of their accomplishments and acknowledgment that their contributions matter and are valued.

Start everyday by asking yourself what can you learn or unlearn today.

Reflect on one thing you could change that would make your job or your employees’ lives better.

2. Lead and Inspire People

Hard-nosed leaders crack the whip and bark out orders.

Real leaders no longer manage people while sitting at desks and telling people what they need to do.

Leaders need to be “out there” – literally and virtually – connecting the organizational vision and mission to people’s jobs. Their role is to inspire people to perform at their best. It means being a positive example for others to follow.

Your job is to help those who work for you to become their best selves and give them the tools and resources to create whatever output it is they produce and get out of the way.

The irony is, as best-selling author, Simon Sinek noted, “The more you inspire, the more people will inspire you.”

In order to inspire others you must first be inspired yourself.

  • Become a voracious reader of the latest books on leadership, motivation and innovation, and other meaningful topics.
  • Subscribe and listen to the latest podcasts, audio programs, and video and streaming content available to inspire you.
  • Sign up for blogs and newsletters from outstanding CEOs, leaders and motivational experts who truly lead the way.
  • Share what you learn with others in your staff meetings and as side notes in your emails to employees.

3. Act and Align Strategically

Hard-nosed leaders are reactive and not strategic.

Managers of the past followed orders from those above them. No wonder they dished them out to their own staff.

Leaders today align their activities and performance metrics with achieving the strategic goals for the organization.

This means ensuring employees know what the vision, mission and the strategic business goals are as well. They need to know how their job roles are aligned so they can make a difference in meeting the company objectives.

When your daily activities align with what your leadership wants achieved there is an opportunity for recognition to reinforce those positive behaviors.

This means the strategic business plan needs to be available in an easy to understand format for every employee.

In managing employee performance your job is to help them see, and know, how what they do connects to the outlined goals.

Your organization’s strategy becomes not only the workplace focus but also a motivational tool to get everyone excited about what they do.

If you don’t know your company’s strategic goals seek out the leader you report to and get a copy.

Have them sit down with you and explain it so you hear what your senior leaders are passionate and excited about – and why!

Then you can share the same message with your staff.

4. Stay Focused and Consistent

Hard-nosed leaders can be scattered in their approach and often inconsistent.

Don’t focus on what you cannot do.

Draw upon your strengths and use your talents, skills and abilities to focus your role on what you do best.

Employees will gravitate to what they see you are focused on. It has been said that what get’s focused on draws the attention of everyone around you.

You must create a laser like focus on what is really the priority – and there can only ever be one thing that is a priority at one time.

The same thing happens with consistency. By doing what you do in an organized and systematic manner each and every day you help create consistency.

When you consistently do what you say you will do, you help to foster trust and dependability in your employees too.

This simplicity removes complexity from people’s lives and let’s people see the great things being done by one another.

And when you see something great happening you must stop and say something about the amazing actions.

Focus and consistency assists with giving better recognition.

5. Follow-up and Give Feedback

Hard-nosed leaders do follow-up and give feedback – just not the right kind.

They are usually the people who are on your case every 5 minutes and only give negative and critical feedback.

Good leaders are like the gaucho cattle ranchers on the Argentinian savanna grasslands when it comes to following up. Gaucho riders have one person on horseback out front leading the cattle herd. Then there are three other gauchos on their horses steering the cattle from behind.

In like manner, leadership is often one-quarter leading the way and three-quarters follow up.

Being kind and considerate are essential qualities for giving candid feedback that is objective yet sensitive.

Such leaders know their people well and how to give the most meaningful feedback to them.

This requires separating out any emotional feelings in the communication. It is likely best to use reflective questions that allow the employee to self-identify how they performed on a task.

Follow-up is an opportunity to teach and learn together while building positive relationships.

Good leaders of high performing teams use 5 times more positive expressions in their communication than low performing teams.

Follow-up and feedback are vitally important as repeatedly surveys show employees what to know how they are doing on the job frequently.

Hopefully, these few ideas can help eradicate hard-nosed mentality and open up the doors for better and more frequent recognition giving.

Question: How have you seen hard-nosed leadership behaviors lessen recognition giving?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “How to Stop Being A Hard-Nosed Leader

  1. I am long past the leadership stage, just enjoying life at age 83, and reflecting on my 24 years as a Naval Officer, ten years as a high school teacher, thirteen years as a law enforcement officer, etc. I cannot claim to be successful in all of my endeavors, in fact, I failed more often than I succeeded. There is one transcendent fact that stands out in my failures. That is: “I did not always operate from a base of power.” It’s is simply a blunt fact that no one will take your leadership efforts seriously if you do not have the will power and the authority to write or approve the final entries on their evaluation reports, and the authority to hire and fire. As a subordinate, you may not be the ultimate decider on these two factors, but you must have some significant input as to the final outcome. With the tacit understanding that you have the power to influence the lives of the people you lead, you can move on to the higher levels of motivational leadership. Without this power, and the courage to use it, you are nothing but a blistering fool.