It’s not hard to find advice on how to be a good leader, but it’s a lot harder to actually follow that advice and make a real and lasting change. It is human nature to believe that the habits which have proven successful in the past are worth continuing in the future. Unfortunately, it’s usually too late when we realize that this strategy can have disastrous consequences.
As a leader, recognizing that your actions and words set the tone for your team can be transformational. You can choose the tone you set by reinforcing positive habits and abandoning long-established behavior patterns that undermine morale and disrupt productivity.
It takes incredible willpower and discipline to make a meaningful effort toward change. An awareness that we are doing something wrong, or at least something that can be improved upon, starts with recognizing those habits that you should break:
- Not following through. Follow through is not just about getting the job done. For a leader, it is the coin of the realm when it comes to trust and credibility. Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it, and you’ll earn a measure of respect and authority that would otherwise be impossible.
- Being inconsistent. Consistency in your instructions, opinions, methods and views is another important part of trust and credibility. Strong leaders demonstrate a reliable approach and unwavering vision. This doesn’t mean you can’t bob-and-weave along the way as circumstances change, but maintaining a consistent mission is key.
- Micromanaging. As your team and responsibility grows, often the most difficult thing is letting go of the details and trusting your direct reports to do the job. Not only does micromanagement send the signal that you don’t trust the people who work for you, it takes away time that you could be spending on more important things.
- Not listening. Want to build a team that runs like a well-oiled machine? One of the easiest things you can do is listen to the ideas and concerns of your employees. Think of it as customer service turned inside out: Listen to them as you would a customer and they’ll respect you more, feel appreciated, and you’ll get the full impact of the collective hive.
- Being over-exuberant. There’s always the desire to share the good news of opportunities as they come along. Getting caught up in the possibilities and enthusiasm is fun. But when you remember to temper your exuberance with a bit of pragmatism, you’ll avoid getting people’s hopes up until you know for sure it’s in the bag.
- Not being clear about expectations. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your team members always know exactly what you mean. They’re not mind readers. When the outcome you’ve been shooting for is not met, it could be because your instructions and expectations were vague or based upon erroneous assumptions. Ask questions and be crystal clear.
- Being indecisive. Taking responsibility for making decisions is the trait of a good leader. When you waver and prevaricate, you come across as indecisive and others lose their confidence in your judgement. Indecisiveness has another dark side as well: It often invites unnecessary debate that slows progress and makes purposeful action more difficult in the future.
- Not delegating. Some leaders are convinced that taking on more work has a lot of merit, but it eventually will backfire if you don’t know when to stop. Delegating work to those around you not only allows you to focus on the things that matter, but it brings a sense of satisfaction as your direct reports grow and contribute to mutual goals.
- Making sarcastic comments. Sarcasm and dry wit may be your personal style, but even in jest a comment can easily be taken the wrong way. Especially in high-stress work environments where everyone is under pressure, it doesn’t take much to misunderstand sarcasm and get feelings hurt and pride ruffled. It’s best to avoid it.
- Taking credit you don’t deserve. We’ve all had that boss who takes credit for our ideas and success, and there’s nothing more harmful to morale than not recognizing the good work and contributions of others. It may be tempting to take credit, and you may actually feel you played the pivotal role, but always be charitable in giving credit where credit is due.
- Playing favorites with employees. The perception that you are showing favoritism or being unfair in your treatment of team members is a surefire way to lose respect. Perhaps you even think that favoritism is not noticeable, but rest assured it almost always is. Treat everyone with equal attention and kindness — it’s the right thing to do.
- Hoarding or withholding information. Every leader knows that information is power. Keeping information to yourself so you can look better is an admission that you’re not confident in your abilities. Knowingly withholding information that is useful to your employees is only hurting your own business and lowering your prospects for success.
- Not acting as a mentor. Being a mentor is not only important in helping your employees succeed, but it is deeply rewarding. The hard-earned knowledge and expertise that you have gained is meant to be passed on. Think of yourself as not only a mentor but also a role model, because people look up to those they can learn from.
- Disregarding other’s time. Leaders have earned a degree of deference in terms of their time, but never disregard the time of others simply because you are “above” them. The time of your colleagues and direct reports is just as valuable as yours. Demonstrating that you care about the schedules and commitments of others grows their esteem in you.