In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, best-selling author Stephen Covey identified consistent habits that were characteristic of highly effective people at work. We would suggest that there is a parallel in the bad habits that ineffective leaders consistently demonstrate. While obviously there are many more than seven bad habits, here are ones that we hear about most frequently when we are coaching leaders.
1. Trying to make friends rather than earn respect. You can develop warm and supportive relationships with your employees, but you will have difficulty maintaining a professional reporting relationship if you try to be a friend instead of a boss. The danger is that feedback and accountability are often compromised.
2. Playing favorites by not treating employees equally. It is easy to justify favoritism by pointing out that some employees go the extra mile, perform at a higher level, have a better attitude, or need less coddling and coaxing. Remember that giving more praise and better assignments to favorite employees reinforces the very behaviors you are trying to minimize.
3. Withholding information. What do employees need to know (what’s important?) and what isn’t important? A leader needs to discern the difference. When employees feel information is being withheld or given only on a “need to know basis,” it raises suspicions and erodes trust.
4. Directing rather than involving. A leader can always tell employees what to do and how to do it. She can make decisions and leave implementation to employees. While it directing is certainly quicker in the short run, it ends up doubling or tripling the time in the long term. Employees who cut out of the decision making process end up becoming confused (at best) as well as disengaged and mistrustful.
5. Not providing clear expectations. Our experience is that employees want to do a good job, but are often unclear about what their leaders expect. When assignments are unclear, employees second guess your directives, assume your intentions or take a stab in the dark. The end result is usually bad for all parties involved.
6. Getting stuck on the past. Employees who have had performance or behavior issues need an opportunity to make improvements. Once they have turned their issue around, make sure you aren’t the one who ends up still clinging to old issues! Revisiting an eight-month old issue during a performance review undermines an employee’s hope that he can ever become a high performer in your eyes.
7. Not holding people accountable. Your best performers seek challenges and expect to be held to a high standard. They resent working with others who under-deliver and are not held accountable for lackluster performance. If you allow some employees to get away with less than you expect, you undermine your own credibility. Expect your high performances to pushback or move on.
There are many challenges to leading others. Make sure you aren’t falling into any of these seven bad habits. If you do, they are sure to undermine your success.