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To grow as a leader, discover what to stop doing

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We all know that leadership includes many things: communicating, building effective teams, making decisions, etc. To develop those skills, leaders will read books, attend seminars and take training courses, as well as watch and listen to other leaders, among other things.

What is most often overlooked is what a leader needs to stop doing.

Management gurus’ guru Peter Drucker has said, “We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”

In other words, learning something new isn’t necessarily the key to leadership. Rather, if leaders and leaders-in-training examine their behaviors with a critical eye, they may realize that they’re holding themselves back because of something they do unconsciously.

Whether we are seen as leaders or not, everyone has personal characteristics that may annoy or upset others. If we become aware and modify those behaviors, we’ll succeed at a higher level.

For example, we all know people who are know-it-alls, who presume to know everything about everything all the time. They may very well know the answer to a problem or challenge in the workplace but if others aren’t given the opportunity to arrive at a solution on their own, team engagement diminishes. Why should team members worry about developing judgment or problem-solving skills, since this kind of leader will tell them what to do? Changing know-it-all behavior goes a long way toward building teamwork and being seen as a leader in the eyes of followers.

Another common problem found in successful people is the continual need to win or be right. Winning at all costs in all situations is the No. 1 challenge to effective leadership as most other behaviors that hold us back derive from this attitude.

An unconscious obsession with winning will show up everywhere, not just in the workplace: in the home with our partner or spouse, in parent/child relationships, between team members, and in many social situations.

Perhaps we argue too much because we want our view to prevail over everyone else (i.e., it’s all about winning). Maybe we’re guilty of putting other people down as a stealthy way of positioning them beneath us (again, winning). So many things we do that annoy people stem from needlessly trying to be the alpha male (or female) in any situation (i.e., the winner).

As important as winning and being right may be, a leader can become more successful if he/she actively suppress this urge when it rears its ugly head.

Another behavior leaders are usually unaware of is the need to add too much value. What I mean by this is when an idea is presented, the leader says something like, “That’s a great idea, but it would work better if you … .”

This is a variation of the always-winning pattern, as we feel we need to contribute somehow, or show we see a better way. This behavior deflates the person who originally came up with the suggestion or idea.

The main issue with this behavior is that the suggestion may improve the overall idea by 5 percent, but will have reduced the execution by 50 percent because the idea has been taken away from the originator. It’s not their idea anymore. Whatever is gained from adding to the idea is lost many times over due to decreased commitment to the concept.

These are only three examples of behaviors that leaders can stop doing in order to improve. The best way for a leader to discover his or her shortcomings is to participate in a 360-degree feedback assessment, where everyone around the leader has an opportunity to evaluate the leader’s performance. This includes what the leader does well and what they can improve.

Doing a 360-degree feedback assessment takes courage and humility. Leaders are going to hear things they might not want to hear. They may find out they’re successful because the people around them ignore negative behaviors, but won’t for much longer.

Whatever form of feedback we get, we have to make sure to act on what others tell us. It’s all fine and dandy to read about what we can improve, but feedback is only effective when acted upon. It’s important to find out what we should stop doing and then stop doing it. You’ll find your leadership increases perceptibly.
A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.

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