20 leadership habits that hold you back (article by Terry Irwin)


20 leadership habits that hold you back

Everyone has a few bad habits. Which of the following are holding you back? Put a tick against those you think you should work on.

1. Winning too much
Leading US executive educator Marshall Goldsmith notes that the hypercompetitive need to best others “underlies nearly every other behavioural problem”.

2. Adding too much value
This is when you can’t stop yourself from tinkering with your subordinates’ already viable ideas. “It’s extremely difficult”, Goldsmith observes, “for successful people to listen to other people tell them something where we believe we know a better way or can improve on their idea. The fallacy is that, while it may slightly improve an idea, it drastically reduces the other person’s commitment.”

3. Passing judgement
It’s not appropriate to pass judgement when we specifically ask people to voice their opinions … have you found yourself rating their answer? Goldsmith recommends “hiring” a friend to bill you $10 for each episode of needless judgement.

4. Making destructive comments
We are all tempted to be snarky – or even mean – from time to time. But when we feel the urge to criticise, we should realise that needless negative comments can harm our working relationships. “The question is not ‘Is it true?’, but rather ‘Is it worth it?’”

5. Starting with “No”, “But” or “However”
Almost all of us do this, and most of us are totally unaware of it. But Goldsmith says that if you watch out for it, “you’ll see how people inflict these words on others to gain or consolidate power. You’ll also see how intensely people resent it, consciously or not, and how it stifles rather than opens up discussion.” This is another habit that may take fines to break.

6. Telling the world how smart we are
Driven by our need to win, we let people know “I already knew that” or “I’m five steps ahead of you”. Being smart turns people on; announcing it turns them off.

7. Speaking when angry
When you get angry, you are usually out of control. And you may justify it as a “management tool”.

8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”
Goldsmith calls this “pure unadulterated negativity under the guise of being helpful”.

9. Withholding information
This one is all about power. “We do this when we are too busy to get back to someone with valuable information. We do this when we forget to include someone in our discussions or meetings. We do this when we delegate a task to our subordinates but don’t take the time to show them exactly how we want it done.”

10. Failing to give recognition
When we don’t take the time or remember to do this, we deprive people of the emotional payoff that comes with success. We may not realise how important it is to them.

11. Claiming credit we don’t deserve
To catch ourselves doing this, Goldsmith recommends listing all the times we mentally congratulate ourselves in a given day, and then reviewing the list to see if we really deserved all the credit we gave ourselves. Who else made that success possible?

12. Making excuses
We do this both bluntly (by blaming our failings on traffic, or the secretary, or something else outside ourselves) and subtly (with self-deprecating comments about our inherent tendency to procrastinate, or to lose our temper, that send the message “That’s just the way I am”).

13. Clinging to the past
“Understanding the past is perfectly admissible if your issue is accepting the past. But if your issue is changing the future, understanding will not take you there.” Goldsmith notes that quite often we dwell on the past because it allows us to blame others for things that have gone wrong in our lives.

14. Playing favourites
This behaviour creates suck-ups; rewarding suck-ups creates hollow leaders. We all believe we don’t like suck-ups, but maybe it’s just the obvious suck-ups we don’t like.

15. Refusing to express regret
We may find it painful to admit that we’re wrong, or have a tendency to externalise blame; it may feel humiliating to seek forgiveness, or that apologising forces us to cede power or control. When you say “I’m sorry”, you turn people into your allies, even your partners.

16. Not listening
This behaviour says “I don’t care about you,” “I don’t understand you,” “You’re wrong,” “You’re stupid,” and “You’re wasting my time.”

17. Failing to express gratitude
“Gratitude is not a limited resource, nor is it costly. It is abundant as air. We breathe it in but forget to exhale.” Goldsmith advises breaking the habit of failing to say thank you by saying it, to as many people as we can, over and over again.

18. Punishing the messenger
This habit is a nasty hybrid of 10, 11, 19, 4, 16, 17, with a strong dose of anger added … like the difference between asking the person “What went wrong?” and asking “What the **** went wrong?”. It’s also the small annoyed responses we make throughout the day when we are inconvenienced or don’t like the news we are hearing.

19. Passing the buck
“This is the behavioural flaw by which we judge our leaders – as important a negative attribute as positive qualities such as brainpower, courage and resourcefulness.”

20. An excessive need to be “me”
Making a “virtue of our flaws” because they express who we are amounts to misplaced loyalty – and can be “one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behaviour”.

You can find more leadership tips on the TCii website.

Or, for individual advice on polishing up your leadership skills, email me or call me on 020 7099 2621.