“We do not spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half of the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”
These are the words of Peter Drucker, who is regarded as the founder of modern management.
And he is right—much time is spent teaching leaders what to do, but the real challenge is knowing what to stop.
In his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” Marshall Goldsmith discusses the twenty bad habits that hold leaders back.
If you are a leader, you may be guilty of most of these habits at one point or another, which is totally okay and part of being human.
Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations – when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
Passing Judgement: The need to rate others and pass our judgements on them.
Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people that we’re smarter than they think we are.
Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
Negativity or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
Withholding information: The refusal to share information to maintain an advantage over others.
Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
Making Excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behaviour as a permanent fixture, so people excuse us for it.
Clinging to that past: The need to deflect blame from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming someone else.
Playing favourites: Failing to see that we are mistreating someone.
Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognise how our actions affect others.
Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.
Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.
Whilst this is a scary pantheon of behaviour, the good news is that these rarely show up in bunches. Most people are guilty of only one or two of these bad habits.
There’s more good news—these faults are simple to correct. The fix is in the skill set of every human being. For example, the cure for not thanking enough remembers to say “thank you” (how tough is that?). For not apologising, it’s learning to say, “I’m sorry. I’ll do better in the future.” For not listening, it’s keeping your mouth shut and your ears open, and so on. Although this stuff is simple, it’s not easy—but there’s a significant difference.
Whittle down this list to the vital one or two issues that apply to you, and you’ll know where to start. And the reason this is important? The higher up you go, the more your problems become behavioural.