Last fall, I had a person reach out to me who was in charge of a huge change initiative in his company. He asked if I would identify a number of behaviors that leaders should avoid at all costs.
I asked him if it wouldn’t be better to identify behaviors that would positively impact every leader’s effectiveness. He asked me why he should make the distinction. I explained that when we tell people what not to do, they usually end up doing the very things we told them to avoid.
He asked me how I knew that. When I was being trained as a ski instructor in my college days, we were told not to say, “If you get out of control, don’t look at the trees.” Rather, they asked us to tell people, “If you get out of control, look downhill where you want to go.”
When we tell our brain what not to do, it may do what we don’t want in absence of clear directions of the correct course of action. In the end, my client pressed me for my “don’t” list rather than a list of effective behaviors.
Here are 12 behaviors that leaders should avoid, along with ideas for what to do instead.
1. Don’t communicate clearly
Give your directions and let that be that. People should know what you mean when you tell them what to do. Also, don’t allow questions, expression of concerns, or ideas for improvements along the way.
What to do instead: You should do all you can to communicate clearly and distinctly. If you have any doubts, ask questions to clarify and check your understanding and theirs.
2. Don’t invite input
People should just do their jobs. You shouldn’t ask them if there is a better way of doing what they should already know how to do.
What to do instead: Ask for input. People who actually perform the tasks may have ideas of what works well and what doesn’t. Allowing people to make contributions will enhance performance and results.
3. Don’t invite people to identify what they need
If you are always asking people to identify what they need (time, people, equipment, or more money), you run the risk of giving them an inch and them taking a mile.
What to do instead: Offer support along the way. Identify what is working and where people are getting bogged down. Make any needed adjustments that will help with the completion of a project.
4. Don’t express appreciation
After all, you pay people for doing their jobs; why should you verbally recognize them and express appreciation for what they are supposed to do?
What to do instead: Smart leaders go out of their way to observe people and catch them doing the right things. They step up and express appreciation for the work people do and the value and contributions that they make.
5. Don’t take the time to get to know your people personally
Getting to know someone on a personal level is not necessary. You are better off keeping to yourself than wasting time talking with people about non-work topics.
What to do instead: People want to connect and know their leaders. Getting to know each person on your team, their history, their goals, and their aspirations will help you establish rapport and make personal connections. People generally want to know that co-workers care about them and respect them for their contributions to the team’s success.
6. Don’t jump in and assist when things don’t go as planned
You don’t have time to worry about how people are doing at their work; they’ll figure it out. If they don’t get good results, you can always blame them. Stay out of the way, and let them work things out on their own.
What to do instead: Being involved when assistance is needed demonstrates commitment and teamwork toward a team goal. You should never be afraid to offer suggestions, share your expertise or backfill when there are not enough hands to do the work. Offering support when it is needed will demonstrate your commitment to people’s success.
7. Don’t trust people to do their jobs
No one can do as good of a job as you can. Why take the chance that your team can do the work to your satisfaction if you don’t manage every step of the process? Constant supervision will ensure that even your poorest performers will turn in good results.
What to do instead: Demonstrate that you are willing to give complete autonomy to people to do their jobs. You can offer training, support and assistance during the entire life of a project. Until people clearly seek your help, assume their best intentions and allow people to do their work. If results are less than expected, you can work with the individuals as needed to strengthen the outcome.
8. Don’t offer feedback, especially when the desired results aren’t achieved
The negative consequences of poor results should be enough to motivate and help people course-correct their behavior.
What to do instead: People love feedback. They want to know when they did the right thing, and they want to know how to improve. Never underestimate the power of giving others feedback. Things won’t change or improve without the benefit of useful and specific feedback. Providing feedback should become a regular function of assessing the quality of your results.
9. Don’t worry about throwing people under the bus
If people are not performing and are to blame for poor results, then they deserve what they get. If you are the leader, it isn’t your fault when others don’t perform. People should take the blame if they are to blame.
What to do instead: Blaming others does not solve a problem. If people don’t get the results that you expect, the first person you should look at is yourself, the quality of your communication, and the clarity of your directions. Then you should hold a conversation to identify what went awry and what should be done to address the current challenge.
If you are the kind of leader who cannot take responsibility, then people will quickly learn that they don’t need to take responsibility, either.
10. Don’t take time to celebrate successes
Taking time and money to celebrate team or individual success is wasted effort. Usually, people are only interested being rewarded with something of monetary value. If you can’t give them that, why bother?
What to do instead: Any time your team meets a milestone, you should take the time to celebrate their success. There are many inexpensive ways to recognize people and their efforts. Taking the time to celebrate in some way sends the message that people are important and that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.
11. Don’t worry about developmental opportunities
You don’t have the budget to send people to training, and it’s a waste of resources. You don’t want people to get distracted from their job. People can worry about that on their own time.
What to do instead: People want to grow and develop. They also want to expand their skills and capabilities so they can do their job better. If you don’t know what each of your people wants in terms of personal growth opportunities and support them in their efforts, they will find an organization that will offer them what they want and need to develop.
12. Don’t worry about saying one thing and doing another
Things change and you have the right to change your mind. People should just fall in line and go with the flow. Sometimes keeping your commitments is impossible and people need to be adaptable.
What to do instead: Things change, and when they do, you should be the first one to alert people and explain why it will occur. If you can’t keep your commitments, you need to apologize, explain why, and reaffirm the importance of your commitment to them. Failure to do so will result in a lack of respect, trust, and loyalty.
Hopefully, you recognize the many false assumptions that I offered above as behaviors that leaders should avoid. Your success as a leader depends upon your ability to do the right things for the right reasons.
I’ve made a few suggestions of things effective leaders do; there are many others. Taking time to assess your personal effectiveness and making needed changes will boost your success as a leader and as a team.
John R. Stoker is the author of “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of DialogueWORKS, Inc. His organization helps clients and their teams improve leadership engagement in order to achieve superior results. He is an expert in the fields of leadership, change, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked and spoken to such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and AbbVie. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
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