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10 simple things every leader needs to stop doing


By Guy Bell, Mediafeed


Dogma danger

I’ve spent my entire life turning struggling companies around.

After working with dozens of organizations, I’ve begun to see the patterns that led to their challenges. Unfortunately, these patterns are not unique to them. It is conventional wisdom — business dogma — that leads us astray.

I’d like to share with you the ten most common behaviors I discuss in my book, Unlearning Leadership, that lead leaders astray.

1. Creating policies to correct behavior

In business and in life, we are addicted to creating rules in response to “bad behaviors.” This addiction is accepted as normal and is reinforced throughout society.

What is it actually accomplishing, though? Are we really obtaining better outcomes through more policies, rules, laws and governance? I don’t think so. Instead, we’re over-managing our kids, partners, employees and (no surprise), some of us are over-managing ourselves.

My rule of thumb is this: Never create a policy to correct behavior. The more we allow this insidious creep of policies, the closer we come to killing our business. Instead of bureaucracy and policies, focus on removing the barrier for your team to take the right actions.


2. Hiring based on qualifications

Do you filter résumés based on the level of degree, years of experience, or geography? Have you created an interview template to ensure consistency around one or two interviewing theories? Do you use a personality profile to predict future success?

What if you knew that you were missing the right candidate because you were checking the box? Would you change the way you approach hiring people?

The first questions I ask in all interviews are personal. I want to know who you are and what you love to do, as well as where you want to go in life. I couldn’t care less if the answer has anything to do with the business or position. I only want to know what makes you wake up.

3. Preaching transparency

We’ve all heard companies talk about transparency, but that hasn’t created anything resembling true transparency.

I was recently in an executive meeting at a company that preached transparency. The meeting was ominously held behind closed doors and one of the first comments made by the CEO was, “This conversation can’t leave the room.”

Either be transparent and then invite others to practice the same, or don’t. Everyone or no one.


4. Playing buzzword bingo

I only recently learned about buzzword bingo.

The bingo words go something like this: “results-driven,” “synergy,” “empowerment,” “think outside the box,” “team player,” “A-player,” “big data,” and so on. My timeless favorites are “We need to get buy-in on this,” “You have to drive the results,” and “What is the ROI?”

Your employees are smart enough to see through the charade and nobody is better off because of it. Use real language to communicate, and the connections you form with your team will be more genuine.


5. Designing culture

Let’s get this straight: Culture is an outcome.

It’s not something that you can create from the outside and impose on people from on high. Let go of the notion that you control other people. Regardless of how benevolent your desire may be, manipulating people to get what you want is a fool’s game.

Culture is created from the inside out. Cultivate it, don’t design it.

6. Driving results

Like culture, results are an outcome.

In my experience, it is universally true that we manage our way to results. Our misguided behaviors have us believe that we drive the results of other people. In fact, when the business grows and we add multiple layers of middle and upper management, we have people driving people to drive other people to hit a number. What a colossal waste of time!

Results are earned through relationships. Results are earned through discipline. Results are earned by caring.

And for the record, we drive cars. We earn results. We don’t drive people.


7. Creating layers of management

I’ll keep this as simple as possible: Only add people between people when it’s absolutely necessary. And for God’s sake, give the power of decision-making to the lowest level.

I was hired to consult for a friend of mine. She was running HR for a publicly traded company and wanted my help figuring out why they were losing talent.

After doing the research, my findings clearly suggested the middle managers were not passing along vital information. The president had created a culture of only telling him what he wanted to hear, so the layers of management acted as a filter to only allow the good news through.

This phenomenon is common. Layers of management aren’t just poorly spent payroll — they can actually be counterproductive.


8. Trying to control everything

The desire to control behaviors, activities, interactions and outcomes is possibly the greatest un-diagnosed addiction in human history.

We think that, as leaders, we can coordinate all of the moving pieces to ensure that we accomplish our goals. We set targets, anticipate problems and try to keep the whole universe under our control.

Ultimately, it just doesn’t work. The world is messy and chaotic. Make sure your plan always includes the fact that you’re going to need to go off plan.

9. Practice active listening

Listening is not a tactic! You don’t learn to listen. You learn to be quiet and find a moment without thought. You listen and engage from that moment.

You can play the game of “active listening” and likely do a pretty good job of it. But it’s not necessary.

Practicing listening is like practicing breathing. When you meditate, you often focus on your breathing. This is a good thing. When you no longer need to meditate because you are present in each moment, this is the life that you’re meant to live.


10. Blaming anyone but yourself

All of this starts with you!

It’s easy for leaders to point to the specifics of the problems beneath them in their organization, but this behavior misses the point. As the leader, everything stems from your actions and beliefs. If things aren’t working, start with correcting yourself. After that, you can correct the organization.

The fastest path to building a transformative culture is to be a transformational CEO or executive. Here’s the simple part: all you have to do is be yourself.

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Career Advice: 10 simple things every leader needs to stop doing
10 simple things every leader needs to stop doing
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