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7 Habits That Are a Downfall of Good Leaders

Over the last few decades, the bestselling book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey shaped the management thinking and so many leaders used this as a holy grail to acquire desired traits and habits.

In his book, Covey spoke of these following seven qualities – the first is to be proactive and seize the initiative, the second, to begin and end with an ultimate objective in the mind, the third is to prioritise or put things first. The fourth is to rely on “win-win” situations, fifth to have empathy in all actions and situations – which is to understand and to be understood, sixth is to look for synergies and the last quality he referred to as sharpening the saw, which means continual improvement and keeping yourself up-to-date with the latest developments in your field of interest.

But how about habits people need to avoid to be effective? Now, these qualities are not the exact opposite of what Stephen Covey wrote about. It doesn’t mean poor leaders automatically don’t follow Covey’s prescription. To be fair, these people may still possess some great qualities, they may be excellent team players or great at following instructions to the T. But to succeed in a leadership role, they must also keep in mind what they should avoid doing at any cost.

Here are seven habits that will mark you as a highly ineffective leader:

1. Being judgmental:

Quick definition: Pegging everything into right or wrong

The difference between good judgment and being judgmental is the latter operates on assumption rather than reality. Assumption makes us get into the habit of bucketing everything into right or wrong and therefore makes room for likes and dislikes. Also, once you make an assumption, you find reasons to justify it.

This is inherently bad for leaders as they won’t be able to bring out the best in a person. Why? Because it is a human tendency to amplify the wrong many times more as opposed to the right. We tend to reprimand for wrong frequently than acknowledging the right. If you are unaware about your judgmental side, you are likely to come across as very critical or as the person who is only finding faults.

Self-reflection: Am I classifying this words/action as wrong or right? Doing so will enable you to instantly alter your response in line with the words or action, rather than based on experience or assumption.

2. Having a bias:

Quick definition: Conscious or unconsciously favouring or rejecting

We all have biases. Saying that I dont have a biases, is also a bias. We may not be aware of them, sometimes refuse to acknowledge them even, but they heavily influence our decision-making. They can range from being verbal to nonverbal. It can reflect in the form of a relationship we build with some people over others, the way we recruit, promote, manage and even the opportunities or limitations we place on ourselves or others. It could show up in many small or big ways at our workplace, and that can make people feel excluded or included.

When you are leading a team, your bias has a huge impact on the entire team. How? Those who feel excluded end up feeling devalued, demotivated and can have a spillover effect on other employees as well. At times, exclusion brings out the rebel in the employee. Such an employee constantly complains, finds ways to raise arguments, and all this can spiral into a very distasteful work environment. Needless to say, even one bad-tempered team member can directly impact productivity. And should an employee learn about your bias before you do; you may become a victim of their manipulation.

Self-reflection: What are my biases? What do I think about people who may oppose my way of thinking or my most favorable decision? Knowing your biases help you keep them in check and maybe empower you to work towards broadening your perspectives.

3. Taking things for granted:

Quick definition: No appreciation for or assigning less value to other’s contribution

All too often, we take others time, others feelings, other’s views for granted. In the workplace, taking your team members time for granted could lead you to overstep or make commitments on their behalf. Taking other’s feelings for granted could result in lack of communication or unresolved conflicts within the team. Taking other’s views for granted would mean closing all opportunities of gaining inputs and ideas from your team members.

If you find yourself making statements like ‘I know how much time he/she will take?’, Or ‘I know he/she will react badly to this’. Or ‘I feel they may have nothing to add to this.’ Or other similar statements, then you are unknowingly taking things for granted. As a team leader you want the team to feel empowered and valued, and taking them for granted will do the exact opposite.

Self-reflection: Am I committing on behalf of another person without confirming my thoughts? Knowing this will open up doors to building strong relationships based on mutual trust and dialogue.

4. Impatience:

Quick definition: Not slowing down to accommodate another

Many tasks associated with leading a team require patience, for example, strategic planning, project management, people development, conflict resolution, performance management, etc. An apt example of this would be, reassessing company goals & targets when it is not possible to have the full workforce in action – like currently during the pandemic. It is easy for a leader to see the desired end and the big picture, and this can result in the leader bulldozing ahead without exercising the patience needed to bring the entire team on board.

Leadership means understanding that patience may require sacrificing short-term glory for long-term results. Sometimes we are forced to make quick decisions, but barring emergencies, having a patient approach, in general, ensures that everyone is on board and aligned, moving forward swiftly to meet goals.

Self-reflection: Do I feel this is simple but taking too much time? When you find yourself in this spot, check where more inputs are required.

5. Giving up:

Quick definition: No appreciation for nuances

Surprised to see this point? Well, we all feel we never give up, we are very persistent and have strong will power. But if you pause and reflect for a moment, chances are you will realise that you may not give up on tasks or goals but very easily give up on other people. This could be hugely detrimental while leading a team.

For instance, if one of your team members misses a deadline a couple of times though not every time, you subconsciously assume that they are lazy, and poor at managing time; then you will never give them a chance to redeem themselves. On the other hand, you could first check-in with the employee as to why they missed delivering on the deadlines. This will give them a fair chance to open up. It’s difficult to bring out the best in someone when you assume the worst about them.

Self-reflection: Do I hesitate to handover certain work to a particular team member? Why? Answering the why will help you come up with ideas to work with the employee rather than giving up.

6. Justifying bad decisions:

Quick definition: Attached to decisions

This directly points to not taking responsibility for one’s actions. Many leaders can’t admit they have made a mistake or they adopt the ‘never apologise’ approach. They stand by their decisions despite all the evidence showing it’s a bad choice, believing it to be a sign of strong character. I have come across organisation leaders who don’t see the need to apologies for delayed meetings. Even if they say sorry, they don’t mean it because the very same behaviour is repeated the next time.

Temporarily, it makes a leader feel powerful and in control. But in the long-term, it erodes the trust of employees. And when this happens, it will show on employees’ morale, productivity, energy levels, thinking fresh, as well as psychological safety. This will eventually lead to poor organisational performance and attrition. As a team leader you should adopt a growth mindset which doesn’t view failure as a reflection of abilities, but rather opportunities to learn and grow.

Self-reflection: When was the last time I accepted my mistake? No matter big or small, when one accepts a mistake, they become open to learning from the instance and often do not make the same mistake again.

7. Lack of discipline:

Quick definition: Not being able to follow through

What is discipline? Simply put, it is following the set of rules and regulations that you have put together. Whether it is a personal discipline related to exercise, meditation, reading, coaching, building a business, etc. Or Professional discipline such as planning, strategic goal setting, guiding, time management, etc. no matter the type, oftentimes, we expect discipline from others without being disciplined ourselves.

For instance, never taking time to look at the long-term and set a clear direction for your team means lack of self-motivation to generate synergies towards the goal. As a team leader, you cannot expect your team to show discipline and believe in the long-term if your actions show them a lack of discipline.

Self-reflection: What exceptions/excuses do I make?

No matter if you are an employee or team leader or will be a team leader in the future, these qualities can greatly hamper good teamwork and collaboration. At the end of the day, people make businesses successful. And leadership in its most basic form is about enabling people to be more, do more and become more as quoted by John Quincy. Being mindful about these ineffective habits will enable you to truly succeed in your role as a people’s leader.

At Yellow Spark, we conduct tailor-made leadership programmes for organisations to address cognitive biases. To know more please write to us at contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.

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7 Habits That Are a Downfall of Good Leaders
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Published on:  August 20, 2020