The late, great management thinker Peter Drucker once offered: “We spend a lot of time teaching our leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching them what to stop.”
As you search for resolutions and ideas to grow and strengthen in your leadership role in the months ahead, here are seven things I suspect Drucker would encourage you to stop.
7 big things to stop doing as a leader
1. Quit trying to be the smartest person in every (Zoom) room
A crucial part of your role is giving people the room and encouragement to think, solve and, yes, even flail a bit. Too many in leadership roles feel compelled to turn every situation into another opportunity to validate why they’re in charge. These leaders answer every question, put forth ideas others are hesitant to disagree with and make snap decisions without providing context. This approach creates the zombie-like culture I see on too many teams.
Starting now, focus on helping the individuals around you grow smarter and more self-confident. Unless you’re navigating life-or-death issues where a split-second decision is required, stop giving answers. Instead, ask questions, encourage alternate framing, and let people explore and experiment with their ideas. You’ll watch them grow in real time. Things will move faster. And, if you’ve done one of your core jobs right — hiring great people — you’ll be amazed at the outcomes.
2. Stop relying on your “open door” policy to foster communication
For several years, I’ve suggested to the overworked, understaffed Bureau of Tired Leadership Approaches to close the open-door policies that many leaders rely upon with their team members. It’s a tone-deaf, lazy-communicator style that should fade into the rear-view mirror.
No, I’m not suggesting leaders become less accessible. Instead, it’s time to start flexing your communication approach to the needs of your team members. Go where they are, meet them in their environment and adapt your communication style to their needs. Don’t demand they cross your threshold to engage with you.
3. Stop delegating talent recruiting
Should you have occasion to accompany the ancient Roman poet Virgil on a tour of the Management Inferno — a new wing added since Dante’s original journey — you’ll find one of the first layers devoted to leaders who outsourced their talent recruiting to internal and external third parties. Delegating the talent identification work is tantamount to outsourcing your organization’s future to someone because they’ll have more time to pay attention to it.
Effective leaders take a strong role in creating succession plans and building a talent pipeline. Cultivate a portfolio of people you’ll call or, better yet, who will contact you when a role opens. Look for talent in unusual places — the best hires will likely come from outside your industry or somewhere in the broader ecosystem. And, please, put to rest the tired tactic of trade show badge bingo, where the same people simply move from firm to firm in an industry.
Along with direction and environment, talent identification is sacred to the leader’s role. Instead of outsourcing talent identification, become great at it.
4. Quit ignoring their need to understand strategy (and don’t oversimplify it)
If you’re involved in the work of strategy in your organization, you understand the context behind it. You’ve looked at markets and competitors, parsed customer input and had ample time to chew on the issues and challenges.
However, for the gross majority of individuals in every organization, the first time they hear about strategy is via a company event or communication. Instead of months to think through the issues, their first reaction is somewhere in the neighborhood of, “Huh?” They have no context for the strategy.
You own providing critical context and making sure strategy makes sense. However, beware of going too far to attempt to simplify it for the broader organization. No one appreciates a dumbed-down explanation of strategy.
Years ago, I worked for a CEO who took this issue of sharing strategy seriously and went a bit too far in the oversimplification department. After months of strategy work and the board’s blessing on the needed investments, the CEO wanted to share the output with the broader organization. Sensitive to the lack of context for most employees, he offered at a town hall meeting, “Our strategy is like a cheeseburger,” complete with an image of a juicy sandwich stuffed with condiments. People left the meeting wondering whether we were the cheese, the lettuce or the bun.
Instead, work to engage your team members during the strategy process. Ask them questions, share the ideas under consideration, and ultimately, share the “why” behind crucial decisions. Remind them they own the “how,” and they’ll both share input and soak up the ideas as they process how to bring strategy to life.
5. Stop the proliferation of meaningless professional development goals
A majority of individual professional development goals I hear from clients are empty promises written in corporate-speak, developed under duress — or at least in compliance mode — to fit annual review deadlines. Personal-professional development neither adheres to a corporate cycle nor can be reduced to something that fits neatly in your organization’s cascading goals set.
Work with your team members to identify one or two personal-professional goals that hold the potential to be game-changers for their skills, experiences and learning. The ideal scenario is one where you and your team member agree that the goal is vital to the individual and firm, and it’s not clear how to succeed. And then, instead of filing this away for quarterly review, start incorporating dialog and coaching on the goal in your regular one-on-one sessions.
6. Stop striving for high performance without writing the rules for success
What are the core values that guide your team’s behavior? Are they visible every single day in critical decisions, challenging discussions and with difficult problems? Are they valuable in onboarding new talent? Are they present when crisis hits and people are in reaction mode?
There have been clear and important group values present and visible in action in every circumstance where I’ve found high performance, whether it’s with functional groups or project teams. They are much more detailed variations of the framed corporate values hanging on the conference room wall in most cases. Instead of nice-sounding, empty phrases, these values — “rules for success” — are precise and packed with practicality.
Stop assuming your corporate values are enough. Learn to work with your group or team and write the rules for success. These are the ground rules that govern the working environment and define expected behaviors for challenging situations. And, your team’s “rules for success” provide a foundation for high performance to grow.
7. Stop wasting one-on-one time with status updates
Your favorite calendar items should be the regular one-on-ones with team members. Too often, these discussions are dominated by status updates, and that’s a waste of a golden opportunity to engage and align.
One-on-ones are the time to tune in to the significant issues, challenges and headaches confronting you or your team member. They offer the occasion to align on goals and targets. And, one-on-ones afford time for you as the leader to identify and engage in coaching and development opportunities. That’s some valuable time!
Find a way to gain insight into the status of initiatives outside of the one-on-ones. Focus these valuable sessions on mutual exploration around what’s working, what’s not and what needs to happen to promote success. Use part of the time to identify the next steps for goal achievement.
The status update is the lazy leader’s plan for a one-on-one. Stop squandering this critical coaching and alignment time.
I love Drucker’s admonishment to teach leaders some things to stop. Perhaps it’s time for a bit of addition by subtraction. Strive to eliminate the routines and behaviors that stifle creativity and innovation and infuse your days with actions that engage, inform and excite the people around you.
Art Petty is an executive and emerging leader coach and a popular leadership and management author, speaker and workshop presenter. His experience guiding multiple software firms to positions of market leadership comes through in his books, articles, and live and online programs. Visit Petty’s Management Excellence blog and Leadership Caffeine articles.