Bad Leader Habits

Broken ChainI learn a great deal when I’m coaching leaders and executives. Recent conversations have brought to mind three bad habits that leaders need to break.

A habit can be defined as an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

We humans find comfort in routine – even if those routines and habits don’t serve us well all the time!

If habits are “almost involuntary,” we are likely less aware of them. We might be even less aware of the benefit or disservice our habits cause us.

The following “bad leader habits” consistently cause disservice – to the leader, to their team members, to team performance, and to team member engagement. And, I see leaders struggle with the impact of these bad habits quite frequently.

The first bad leader habit is not listening. If leaders don’t listen, they’re working in the dark. They won’t understand the current reality. They’re disconnected from their key players and from key information required for good decision making.

There are two components to leader’s effective listening – understanding the speaker’s ideas, needs, or concerns, and having the speaker feel heard. Understanding the speaker’s ideas requires the leader to pay attention to what’s being said. The leader may need to ask clarifying questions to ensure he or she understands the situation or opportunity as the speaker see it. The leader may need to make notes to ensure they don’t miss anything important that’s being shared.

The speaker will feel heard if they experience the leader paying attention, showing appreciation for the speaker’s insights, and learning the speaker’s recommendations. Note that listening doesn’t mean you agree! The leader can describe their view after listening well to the speaker’s point of view.

The second bad leader habit is abdicating. Abdication is the absence of dialog and mutual problem solving. Why might a leader abdicate to a team member? The leader may trust the team member thoroughly – but isn’t positioning their delegation of authority and responsibility very well. The leader may not know anything about the issue or the opportunity – and doesn’t engage in dialog because they might feel “stupid.” Another common driver of abdication is the lack of time for the leader do to anything with the information the speaker provides.

Strategic delegation is an effective way to assign authority and responsibility. That approach requires discussion, planning, goal and deadline agreements, and the like – which doesn’t happen if the leader abdicates.

The third bad leader habit is fixing – which is the polar opposite of abdication. Fixing happens when the leader takes control of the issue or opportunity and either 1) acts on it him or herself, 2) tells the team member exactly what to do and how to do it, or 3) assigns the issue or opportunity to a different team member.

Even if the leader has the skills necessary to fix the issue, is it a good use of the leader’s time to engage in that micro-level activity? Probably not. If the team member raising the issue or opportunity doesn’t have the skills to fix it, the leader and the company would be better served to engage someone to help teach the team member those skills. That would build capacity for addressing these needs in the future.

Do you engage in any of these bad habits? The best way to find out is to ask your team members. Learn their perceptions. If you discover that you have some bad habits, refine those habits, ask for feedback, and continue to refine.

What do you think? Do you engage in any of these bad habits? What bad leader habits would you add to this list? Add your comments, insights, or questions below.

Add your experiences to two fast & free research projects I have underway: the Great Boss Assessment and the Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are available on my research page.

My new book from Wiley, The Culture Engine, guides leaders to create workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution. Get your free sample chapter here.

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