To lead well – what should you stop doing?

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By Debbie Dudley

As the business sage Peter Drucker famously noted:  

We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend nearly enough time teaching them what to stop.” 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ model of leadership. We all have unique personalities and attributes that we bring to a role and very different personalities can be highly successful leaders. Perhaps a better way of looking at it might be to work out which behaviours and mindsets are not helpful. 

Below is a list of some frequently observed behaviours and practices that are detrimental, yet common, which we might need to stop. 

Always being in charge – you don’t need to define every process, set rules, check what people are doing or be in every discussion. 

Telling people how to solve problems, rather than asking them what they think they should do first. Then asking more questions in support as they devise their own solution. 

Talking – rather than watch and listen attentively. Sum up, clarify at the end and set direction. 

Focusing internally – it is easy to focus on what your team is doing and become caught up in the myriad of day-to-day concerns. In doing this, you lose the context and the bigger organisational picture. With the current rate of change, your focus needs to be outwards. 

Being dismissive of people even if unintentional – not listening to what others say is dismissive and an act of passive aggression. People who you dismiss do notice and feel upset/ angry/hurt. Be alert and sensitive.

Sticking to the plan – it is hard to know when to let go, when to give up, especially when you have invested time, effort and energy. A reluctance to quit is familiar to most of us: from an early age we are taught to persist, that “quitters never win”, that walking away is tantamount to failure, and that giving up is giving in. This reluctance is a version of what is known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy; because you’ve already dedicated time and effort to a job or a project, you feel an obligation to your investment, even if that investment is irrecoverable – the equivalent of throwing good money after bad. But everything has a sell-by date. So, how do you know when that date is?

Some hints include:

– When every step is challenging and you are besieged by delays, obstacles and problems. 

– The opportunity cost is high i.e. what else could you be achieving by applying the same time, energy and resource? 

– The context has changed. There are other priorities, technology has moved on, the strategy has changed or the appetite has reduced. 

Spending time alone – Relationships are key to the success of any organisation. And, leaders need to be paving the way, building relationships with clients, other teams, peers and most importantly your own team. The more leaders invest in others, the more others will invest in the organisation. Having said that, you do need thinking time … 

Failing to give timely, honest and clear feedback – both positive and negative. It is the only way to optimise development and performance. People will do more of what they are rewarded for and they can’t change behaviour if they don’t know it is a problem or understand why it is problematic. 

Overreacting – many of us catastrophise and problems are reimagined into life-altering events. Unless you are a heart surgeon or a general leading an army at war, keep perspective. No team can survive constant emergency mode, it takes too much of a toll on them. And on you…  

Failing to invest in developing people – we all know that this compromises performance, leaves you without a successor, results in lower levels of motivation and exacerbates retention problems. So why do we do it? Time and budget are often given as excuses. This is short-term thinking with clear consequences and a significant failure of leadership. 

At the Openside Group we work with people and organisations to develop their business leaders. We tutor and coach from new entrant to Partner on their roles in exemplifying the brand, embodying the culture and ensuring the legacy, whilst creating their own authentic leadership style. In essence, laying the foundations for identifying what they need to start, keep and stop doing in order to be an effective leader.

To learn more about developing Partner-like behaviours, click here.