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StrategyJun 18, 2020

6 Bad Behaviors That Will Stunt Successful Leaders

Raul Cevallos

When a friend of mine was promoted to a leadership position, he asked if I had any advice for him. I shared this tip that I wish someone would have shared with me 20 years ago: “When you take on a new role, make sure to let go of your old role as well.” I don’t mean just the roles and responsibilities of your old job, but also the behaviors you used to have.

I’d like to share six bad behaviors you will need to shed or avoid to grow into a successful leader:

bad behavior # 1: stop solving every problem

As you rose through the ranks at work, perhaps you were regarded as a great technical problem solver or an analytics guru, but that behavior will not make you a successful leader. When you swoop in to fix every problem, you are taking away precious opportunities for your team to learn, grow, and become accountable.

Instead, learn how to delegate and hold people accountable. Provide helpful direction on the expected results, deadlines, and success metrics. Make yourself available to share guidance and coaching, but do not micromanage or try to tell teammates how to do their jobs. Focus on results and accountability, and success will follow.

bad behavior #2: thinking you must always have an answer

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that as a leader you must always have the answer. Avoid creating a bad culture by giving wrong or half-baked answers. Instead, leaders should create a culture where people feel encouraged to ask for input and information and feel welcomed to share their ideas and solutions. When asked a question directly that you don’t know the answer to, resist the urge to guess. Not knowing the answer does not make you unqualified or vulnerable. It just means you’re being responsible, and you are going to lead the team on the search for the right solution.

bad behavior #3: discouraging bad news

The way you react when your team brings bad news will make or break the relationship you will have with your team. If you get angry, overreact, or blame people, you will create a culture where people won’t be honest with you. They will delay sharing concerns or bad news because they are afraid of how you will react and issues or risks will turn into crises.

By avoiding this bad behavior, you will be rewarded with a precious asset—transparency.

When someone brings bad news the first thing you should say is, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, now we can figure out a solution or mitigation before it becomes a crisis.”

You’ll need to practice so that response becomes automatic. Practicing not only makes you look more approachable, but also short-circuits your brain into problem-solving mode instead of blaming mode.

This is not to say you have to be a floor mat for your team to walk over, it just means you need to learn how to be tough on the problem and gentle on the people.

bad behavior #4: conflating the person and the problem

Business is all about solving problems, but if you see your people as the problem—well, that’s a problem. You need to separate the person from the problem.

I admit this is a hard skill to develop. It’s very easy to get off balance and go hard on the person and soft on the issue. Our leadership standing falls quickly when this happens.

When I conduct a coaching session with my clients who are about to take a new leadership role, I have a long session to identify the typical symptoms of potential leadership styles, the consequences of each, and how to avoid bad scenarios:

  • Tough on issues, tough on people: You will probably get things done, but you will alienate your team in the process.

  • Soft on issues, soft or tough on people: Your leadership career will be short-lived since you are not able to solve problems to accomplish your goals.

  • Tough on issues, soft on people: The only desirable scenario.

Learn how to be tough on the issues and soft on people. If you can master that behavior, you will be able to address workplace challenges while exhibiting character, integrity, and gaining trust from your team. Remember, you cannot be a leader if nobody is following you.

bad behavior #5: assuming people know how to interact with you

Each person has preferences on how they like to communicate: how often would you like your team to reach out to you, what is the best mechanism, how much detail do you like to have, do you like to pre-read the material, etc.

Instead of assuming your team will magically and instantly know how to interact with you, it’s better to first give them an opportunity to get to know you.

One of the first activities I recommend to my clients when starting a new leadership role is to have a new leader assimilation workshop. Recruit someone from HR to help you plan and execute a workshop to give people an opportunity to get to know you and ask questions about your leadership style.

bad behavior #6: one size fits all reward system

One of the mistakes new leaders make is to fail to realize that not everyone wants to be recognized or rewarded in the same way. For example, you might think you are properly rewarding Peter with a new iPad (for solving a complex client situation) without knowing that Peter does not care about stuff and instead appreciates peer-to-peer recognition during the next all-hands meeting.

As a leader you need to use creativity to adequately reward employees’ successes and contributions, while at the same time complying with the company culture and any formal or informal rules. Think about all the possible types of rewards: status, power, access, and stuff.

be a leader others want to follow

Taking on a leadership role is a big step in any career. As with many changes, the behaviors that got you to this place are not necessarily the behaviors that will generate success moving forward. So as you begin a new leadership position, remember to build trusting and transparent relationships while focusing on solving problems and accomplishing goals. You cannot be a leader if you don’t have followers.

If you would like to learn more about Credera’s leadership coaching, please reach out to us at findoutmore@credera.com.