Seeing yourself and your behavior clearly and objectively can be incredibly difficult, especially for a seasoned leader. As a global executive coach, much of my practice is focused on a leader’s “self-deception.”
In fact, you might be thinking that this article doesn’t apply to you. You might believe your job is to get things done because you’re in charge. You expect the company to adjust to your style and needs.
Unfortunately, this mindset will counteract your efforts to develop and inspire your organization. People aren’t extra activities on your to-do list; they’re a core part of your everyday leadership. Because poor leadership practices cause organizations to be less productive, the very actions you take have a negative or positive impact.
Being self-aware, conscious, and curious about your impact is the start of uncovering and discovering better results for you and your business.
Bash These 10 Bad Habits
Leaders’ bad habits wound them and their organizations every single day. If you recognize yourself in any of the behaviors listed below, read on to find out how you can improve today.
- Believing you are the exception to the rule
You can be late to a meeting, but nobody else can be. Employees must get expense reports in promptly at noon on Friday, but yours can be submitted on Tuesday — maybe.
What you do creates permissions within the business. When you don’t follow the rules you’ve set, can you really expect standards to be upheld if you fail to meet them yourself? In big and small ways, employees will soon start finding their own shortcuts.
Be responsible about what you ask for and expect of others. Your employees won’t buy that old line “Do as I say, not as I do.” If you don’t want to follow your own rules, don’t make them.
- Throwing people under the bus
Do you ever speak negatively about employees to other employees or clients? Or worse, do you directly bully employees by saying things like “You’re smarter than this” or “What were you thinking?”
What you say counts. Your words stick. Once you’ve damaged someone’s reputation and credibility publicly, it’s virtually impossible for that person to recover. Your words will either spark or silence creativity. So if you want to trigger innovation, don’t make it dangerous to speak up. Employees won’t take risks openly if noxious exchanges are in play.
Think about this: Have you ever wondered why nobody talks in meetings? It could be because you’ve made it unsafe for employees to share bold or bad ideas.
People do need to be held accountable for their contributions and take on critical conversations privately. Don’t malign or bully people in public. Trusted, effective leaders respect and uphold the dignity of every employee, client, and vendor.
- Demanding to be dazzled
Executives have a limited amount of time. You might find yourself preferring quick sound bites over more nuanced ideas when exchanging information.
If you create an atmosphere where employees don’t feel valued, heard, or even considered unless they dazzle you with their brilliance, they’ll protect themselves from embarrassment. They will follow rather than lead, stop thinking beyond their scope, and forget about the strategic bigger picture.
Catching your attention in order to “wow” you is not your employees’ job. A leader is only as good as his or her people, so it’s your job to tune in to them to garner their input.
- Giving in to roller-coaster reactions
Your job is stressful — no doubt. Some days, you’re up; others, you’re down. Your mood affects your decisions.
This one is going to be hard to catch. You might not hear it, but employees will whisper to one another, advising one another not to push initiatives too hard if you’re in a bad mood. Erratic, unstable behavior makes it difficult to know how and when to approach and engage with you.
Decisions must be made regardless of mood. Think about how solid your decisions are when you’re having a good day compared to a bad day. Learn to self-regulate your attitude and behavior in all of your interactions to improve top- and bottom-line results.
- Letting ego intersect your leadership
Have you surrounded yourself with people who always say “yes”? Or do you keep yourself open to people who don’t always agree with you?
This is a blind spot for many leaders. If you need constant affirmation, the focus is on pleasing you, not their job. Your people will thrive when they’re praised for their contributions, not for falling prey to the whims of their leader’s ego.
If you need unconditional accolades, get a dog.
- Rambling on and on and on
Some people believe using more words or processing thoughts out loud will help them persuade others. Either way, if you ramble, your employees will be anxiously awaiting the summary to learn what they’re supposed to do with the information overload.
You might see how the dots connect, but don’t assume your employees do. They just want to know how your verbal avalanche relates to their roles. Spouting thoughts and inner musings aloud causes them to tune out and think about distractions, such as “I would rather be cleaning a cat box.” Moreover, 37 percent of employees surveyed said that their employer’s nebulous visions and strategies caused their most recent bad day at work.
Rule of thumb? If you’ve been talking uninterrupted for more than three minutes, stop. Get to the point. If you think the audience has tuned out, it has. Recalibrate with “I see that I’ve lost you. My point is…” Rein yourself in, and help them find the main point.
- Not letting go
Were you a super-achiever before becoming a leader? If so, letting go of the work that made your career pop might be a challenge.
One of my clients was a superstar sales director before founding his company. He struggles to surrender the sales process to the sales team because he’s the “expert” at client conversion. He’s convinced that his way is the right way, yet all he is doing is disrupting and disarming the technical expertise of his team. His job is to lead the business, not to be the sales director.
When leaders struggle to focus on their core organizational responsibilities, their teams become dependent, complacent, and reliant on approval. Let your people do what they do best. Let go. That’s your job.
- Failing to define the culture
Yes, “culture” is a buzzword — and for good reason. It has to be attended to daily. Companies with weak cultures see turnover rates of almost 50 percent. Company culture evolves with or without you, so pay attention to it every day.
You are the steward of the culture. Fixing a less-than-optimal culture requires a multidisciplined effort and a comprehensive change management process.
I worked with a founder who forced a “fun” culture around games, T-shirts, and free coffee. He only succeeded in wearing his people out when what they really wanted was to be left alone so that they could get their work done.
Building a strong culture that engages employees, informs workplace behaviors and attitudes, and defines success factors takes time. Be patient, and start by asking them what their idea of fun is.
- Punting people problems
Sometimes, it might seem easier to keep poor performers rather than fire them. Maybe you know their backstory, which has influenced you. Or maybe firing them will be too expensive.
I know a company where the CEO allowed one employee to sabotage the company for more than 12 years. Colleagues worked around her and quit because of her. While the decision had been punted because of financial cost, the cost to the culture and employee engagement was far greater.
Everyone, including you, is affected by people problems. Don’t make excuses. Poor performers are viruses that disable business excellence. Manage them out the door with grace and dignity.
- Forsaking fallen favorites
Intentionally or not, you have favorites — the go-to people you can depend on no matter what the circumstances are. They are delegated the sweet projects and get to sit in on your private conversations.
Beware of the “golden child” syndrome because you might find yourself a little less in love with them someday. Often, they’ll do something insignificant that causes you to jump to a conclusion about their competency and then the honeymoon is over. Your attitude toward them shifts. They’re out of the inner circle, and it’s painfully obvious to them. When that happens, trust is lost on both sides. Playing favorites creates tension and rivalry on the team. Seeing you suddenly drop a favorite can also create mistrust and suspicion among their peers.
You can avoid this by cultivating those go-to capabilities that you love in a “golden child” across the entire team. Focus on building skill sets, coaching for readiness, and developing insight.
If you’re a senior leader, you likely engage in some of these behaviors. Don’t kid yourself — yes, you do. If you’re leading a team or an organization, your job is to discover these bad habits in yourself and eliminate them for the success of you, your team, and your company.
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