Leaders Need to Break Bad Habits, But They Need to Know Which Ones - and Why


One of the hardest transitions in the workplace is when someone becomes a manager, and (hopefully and eventually), a leader.

It's incredibly difficult for many people to mentally get out of focusing on their own job and instead get into thinking about how the group they are managing are doing meeting a larger set of goals.

This came to mind recently while reading the latest SmartBrief on Workforce newsletter. It is usually a place where they feature content written elsewhere that pertains to managing a workforce, but on occasion, they have some of their own content as well.

My experience is that most of their original articles are less than stellar (I'm being kind here) but there was one recently that interested me titled 3 Habits to Break Before Becoming a Leader.

Are these really 3 habits for leaders to eliminate?

Here's what author and consultant Marlene Chism said:

On the journey to becoming the leader you want to be, there are many difficult lessons, including new habits to develop and old habits to eliminate. Here are three habits to eliminate before you start your leadership journey:

  1. The need to be right.
  2. The desire for the spotlight.
  3. The urge to fix others."

I'm not sure these are the three things I would suggest that new or would-be leaders work on eliminating, but I'm fascinated by the management and leadership process, particularly the evolution of people as they try to become better leaders and managers. So, I dug into these three habits to see how relevant they really are.

1. The need to be right

From the article: "The need to be right at all costs does more damage to your leadership reputation than occasionally admitting you were wrong. The need to be right feeds the ego, but the willingness to be wrong changes a culture. Here’s why: If you already know all the answers, you shut others out instead of inviting their engagement. You keep all the glory for yourself at the expense of developing enthusiastic teamwork."

My take: I've been a manager and a top leader in a variety of organizations, and I agree that it's great for leaders to be honest and forthright when they are wrong. This helps you build credibility with the team because it shows that you also have a humble side and, it sends a clear message to the team: "I don't have all the answers, so I need your help!" But when it comes to the issue of some leaders having to be right all the time, it is clear to me that anyone like that really isn't much of a leader at all. It's hard to lead anyone when you're an egomaniac, and anyone who needs to be right all the time needs to be relived of their management duties immediately


2. The desire for the spotlight

From the article: "Desire for the spotlight is a paradox. On the one hand, if you like recognition, the desire for the spotlight can be just the motivation to put in the extra initiative. On the other hand, if your desire for the spotlight is addictive, it can keep you from acknowledging and growing others. A tell-tale sign that you are addicted to the spotlight is jealousy; the green-eyed monster. You feel jealous of one of your rising stars when instead you should feel proud."

My take: I agree that the desire to stand out and be in the spotlight is a strong motivator for many leaders. And, I don't have a big problem with that. So, I'm not sure exactly why this is all that important of an issue for new managers and leaders to eliminate. The better thing to highlight -- and the SmartBrief article touches on this, is that good leaders need to acknowledge others and look for opportunities to share credit. Those are pretty critical habits that every leader and manager need to exhibit if they truly want to be successful. In fact, sharing credit with the team is one of the most critical behaviors for a leader to have if they really succeed. It was certainly worth a lot more discussion in a list of management do's and don'ts on SmartBrief.

3. The urge to fix others

From the article: "A common problem with most sensitive and caring leaders is taking on other people’s emotional issues. That’s why leaders avoid difficult conversations, walk on egg shells, and overcompensate for poor performers. In "Stop Workplace Drama" I refer to this as rescuing. At the root of rescuing is really the need to rescue oneself. The truth is we human beings are simply uncomfortable with our emotions."

My take: Maybe the author just didn't explain this very well, but this is a head scratcher because it makes no sense at all. if a manager or leader can't do the tough stuff -- like taking on difficult conversations, and rescuing workers -- they aren't much of a leader at all. And, I have never heard this issue brought up as much of an issue at all. Good leaders and managers SHOULD work to help others get better, and although it may be misconstrued as trying to "fix others," it's something that simply has to happen of you want to be a successful leader.

Overall, a pretty flawed list

In short, this is a terribly flawed list of "habits" that new leaders and managers need to break. Yes, there is the seed of a good list in here, and the article does touch on some qualities leaders need to work on, but it feels very much like something put together by a consultant who hasn't done much in the way of actual, hand-on managing and leadership.

New leaders need to steep themselves in good advice on how to best lead and manage -- things like managing by walking around, or any advice they can glean from reading Peter Drucker  -- and stay away from silly do's and don'ts that somebody has condensed into a catchy but shallow list.

The bottom line is that learning to lead and manage well is hard work and you need to bring equal doses of empathy, the ability to learn, and basic common sense to the job if you really want to be successful. That's where your focus really needs to be.

Editor’s Note: The Talent Insider blog is fueled by Checkster, and Checkster has great tools — like the Reference Checkup, the Interview Checkup, and the 360 Checkup — that can help you make better talent decisions to help grow a diverse and skilled team.