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Don’t Do That! Part Two


February 1, 2017 by Lynn Nordby
Category: Leadership

Don’t Do That! Part Two

We’re at the midway point in our countdown of leadership lessons in what not to do. Let’s see where this takes us.

5 Bad Leadership Habits That Undercut Your Team's Productivity

Larry Alton, writing on the Entrepreneur website, points to five bad habits that can ruin any endeavor and can be especially devastating in a small organization.

  • Managing the details. All we need to say here is “micromanagement.” The leader needs to be focused on high-level planning and looking over the horizon rather than in the weeds.
  • Neglecting the individual. Know enough about your team to understand what approach works best with each team member.
  • Not making your expectations clear. No matter how closely you’re working with your team, don’t assume they can read your mind. They need clear expectations and responsibilities.
  • Indecisiveness. Don’t leave people hanging. As the author says, “even a bad decision is better than no decision.”
  • Refusing to delegate. This is akin to micromanagement. Effective delegation makes everyone more productive because your team is there to handle the details. Don’t make everyone wait because you have to clear the logjam on your desk first.

4 Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders

S. Slade Sundar, Chief Operating Officer at Forte Interactive, Inc., writes extensively on current leadership and management topics. He describes four particularly debilitating bad habits.

  • Micromanagement. This undermines employee initiative and motivation. Why should they put in the effort if you're going to step in and do it anyway?
  • Rigid, in-office policies.  Being on-site doesn't always mean greater productivity and doesn't take advantage of varying work styles. Be results- rather than rule-oriented.
  • Public displays of power. A preening leader destroys morale. Let your expertise, integrity, and values show your leadership.
  • Operating on a need-to-know basis. Secrecy and poor communication with your team breeds gossip, rumor, and supposition among employees. Sensitive personnel issues can be explained face-to-face, if necessary, but your team needs to understand your goals and how their efforts fit.

The 3 Worst Habits of Clueless Leaders

Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha! writes, “Your bad habits may be harming your employees more than you think.” Observe what happens to your employees when you walk in the door. If they’re less than enthusiastic to have you around, you might be doing these things.

  • Expecting the impossible. Be reasonable and make sure your employees have the tools they need.
  • Changing direction on a whim. A culture of arbitrariness and upheaval is wasteful and demoralizing. Sometimes a course change is called for, but it's no way to run a work site.
  • Not respecting employees’ time. Hard work and the occasional late night might be necessary but the operative word here is respect. Respect your people and the work they do, and it will come back to you.

Horrible Bosses 2

You’d think in a subject matter where there were people willing to document up to 50 poor management traits, at least one author would have identified the two thought to be most heinous, but alas, I couldn’t find one. So pick your own two [favorite] worst.

And finally, what do the experts believe is the single worst management practice?

In her article titled, The bad habit that makes leaders less effective, Shana Lebowitz, writing for Business Insider, cites defensiveness as the habit that most greatly impacts a leader’s effectiveness. An effective leader is “evaluating [your] experiences and striving to do better; questioning the status quo; adopting new skills quickly; and taking on projects where success is not always a given.” Defensiveness inhibits a leader’s ability to be agile enough to do this.

A New Start

If you want to know how your management style is affecting your team, just ask. Employees who are treated with trust and respect will respond with candor, and you’ll be the better leader for it. Any leader whose bad habits are getting in the way of his/her people doing their best should take the time to retrain. You can start by learning to minimize defensiveness and resisting the urge to respond to feedback immediately. Thank the other person for their comments and take time to reflect before considering how to incorporate what you’ve heard into potential improvements.

Just as I observed when I prepared the “Ultimate Leadership Top Ten List,” this compilation of worst practices revealed a lot of agreement between commentators who specialize in leadership and management. Even though the authors may have used differing terms for rigidity, micromanagement, or defensiveness, these traits cropped up again and again as clear negatives.

I hope I’ve given you a fresh perspective on how to be a great leader by looking at what not to do. If you happen to see yourself reflected in any of these, don’t be defensive. Like any skillset, leadership skills can be developed and improved upon. 


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career includes 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is a Credentialed Manager through the ICMA Voluntary Credentialing program.

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