If you are looking for a list of what to do as a leader (and what not to do), this article is for you.
We dive into the actions great leaders do (the “do’s”), as well as what great leaders don’t do (the “don’ts”).
Let’s jump in.
The Do’s & Don’ts of Leadership
Do: Take Responsibility & Ownership
As a person, as an individual, you are responsible for everything you do. You don’t control everything that happens to you, but you control your actions and responses to it.
People may act certain ways toward you or the economy may do this or that, but you still control your responses to it.
If you want to be successful as an individual, you take responsibility for your life and your outcomes by taking ownership of the choices and responses you make.
As a leader, you aren’t just responsible for you, you are responsible for your team. If you are a manager, and your team messes up, your boss isn’t going to come to your team and ask what happened – your boss is going to look at you.
Example after example has shown it’s not the team, it’s the leader (From Extreme Ownership’s example with Navy Seals training to Captain Abrashoff and Captain Marquet to the examples Sinek gives in his book The Infinite Game and more).
Great leaders take responsibility. If the team doesn’t perform or there is a mess up, they take ownership and look at how to solve it.
Their focus is not protecting status or finding someone to blame; their focus is on working to resolve the issue and making sure it doesn’t happen again.
Don’t: Blame others
Weak people blame. If life isn’t what they want, they blame outside circumstances or people for their lives. Again, you don’t control everything that happens to you, but you always control your responses.
When you blame, you give your power to others and say you are helpless. You make your happiness or whatever else dependent on someone or something else.
Blaming other people as a leader not only makes you look weak as a leader, it hurts your influence with others, it hurts your performance in the future, and it’s just plain weak leadership.
Instead of focusing on resolving the issue, the focus is on blame or finding blame, and that doesn’t solve anything.
Do: Pass the credit
Jim Collins in Good to Great talks about the mirror and the window. He says that the great leaders looked out the window when things went well (giving credit to others or luck) and looked in the mirror when things went wrong (looking at themselves).
When things go well, you should pass the credit on to others. If you are called up by someone and praised for your team’s performance, pass the praise to your team.
If other departments were involved, pass credit to them.
By doing so, not only does it look good on you as a leader, but it also builds influence and respect with your team and others.
They are more likely to work harder with and for you because you pass credit, not hoard it.
Don’t: Take all the credit for yourself
Jim Collins also said that the weak leaders in his study did the opposite – they looked in the mirror when things went well (giving themselves the credit) and looked out the window when things went poorly (blaming others or circumstances).
Hoarding credit makes you look arrogant as a leader.
It hurts the goodwill and influence you have with others. When you take the credit for everything when things go well, it makes people not want to work with you.
Pass the credit.
Do: Care for your team
Sometimes people equate caring for your team with weakness – that if you show care, it keeps you from holding people accountable or it makes people work less.
That’s just not true.
When you care about people, that builds influence and respect with those you work with.
That influence and respect gives you the ability to lead and also helps motivate people to work hard because of that influence.
Great leaders know that by putting people first, they build a culture that produces.
Don’t: Just see them as tools or cogs in the machine
Poor leaders don’t care about their people. They may just see them as tools or cogs in the machine, just to be used up and discarded at a moment’s notice.
When you don’t care about your team, your people and those around you know, and that will greatly hurt your influence and ability to lead.
If you are all about “results”, and put “results” over people, long-term you end up getting a lot less results than if you had shown care and put people first.
Do: Create an environment of safety
In Dr. Marilee Adams’s book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, which, like Patrick Lencioni’s books uses a story to teach a lesson or principles, one of her characters says this:
“The culture of any organization is created either by design or by default, and default typically tilts toward the negative and toward Judger.” (if you want to know more of what she means by Judger, make sure to read the book – it’s worth it!)
The point of this, first, is that you have to be intentional about the culture you create, or you end up with whatever default that you get, and that default is often not one you want.
The culture you want to create may vary depending on different factors, but one nonnegotiable that you want your culture to be is a culture of safety.
Great leaders build cultures where people feel safe speaking up, disagreeing, making mistakes, knowing that leadership there is to support and help them, not out there to “get them” or catch them doing wrong.
When people feel supported and feel safe trying, learning, and making mistakes, you create a culture with higher morale and greater innovation.
Don’t: Create an environment of fear
Unfortunately, many companies, many leaders, create a culture of fear.
Instead of being about supporting their employees, they may give a bunch of directives, create a bunch of bureaucracy, and then walk around to “make sure” people are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
They are about catching people wrong. It’s a culture of compliance and of fear.
And, when you have a culture of compliance, people aren’t about excellence, they are focused on not making a mistake – that’s a big difference.
People’s morale will be lower, there will be less productivity, they won’t try or take risks because that brings mistakes, and if mistakes are punished, they want to avoid them.
And, if the culture is where mistakes are punished and a mistake can hurt one’s career, people focus on what’s easy, not what’s needed. It encourages unethical behavior and a mentality of blame, covering up mistakes to avoid punishment or blaming to put the heat on someone or something else.
That’s not a culture you want.
Do: Provide timely feedback
Feedback should be a normal part of your culture.
You, first of all, should have a growth mindset, but you also should promote a growth mindset with your team and employees.
It’s not about status or looking good or avoiding mistakes (see above on culture of safety), it’s about learning, growing, and being one’s best.
And to do that, your team (and you) needs feedback. Feedback should be “negative” and positive, how to improve and what they are doing well.
It should be timely and frequent. Don’t wait days before saying anything.
If you want your team and your people to be their best, feedback should be a normal conversation.
And, the truth is, if you care about your people, you want them to be their best. And to be their best, they need feedback. Sharing is caring. Withholding it is not.
Don’t: Avoid feedback because it’s uncomfortable, wait for the yearly review, or think no news is good news
Many leaders avoid giving feedback.
Some say it’s because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Really, though, in most cases, it’s because they fear the uncomfortable conversation that comes from giving feedback.
Some leaders think no news is good news, and that if they don’t say anything, employees should just know they are doing a good job.
Some leaders wait till the “yearly review” to give feedback, which is not the best idea.
First of all, no one should go to a yearly review without knowing exactly how well they are doing. It should never come as a surprise.
Second, it makes no sense to wait weeks or months to let someone know how to improve because that means they are still doing that poor work that whole time!
Don’t let fear keep you from giving feedback or think people should just know how well they are doing. Give feedback and give it frequently.
Do: Provide autonomy
According to Daniel Pink in his book Drive, one of the core human motivators is autonomy.
We, as humans, want to feel like we have some form of control over our work and our lives.
When you give your employees autonomy in their work, where they make choices and decisions as they move toward whatever expectation or goal they may have, that brings more engagement and ownership in their work as well as helps build loyalty.
The amount of autonomy will, of course, depend on the task and the person’s experience, and it also requires clear communication along with clear expectations from you.
Micromanagement can happen for different reasons.
One is a lack of trust. Some leaders don’t trust their team’s ability to do anything. They feel like they have to control them in what they do – so they micromanage.
It could also be insecurity or arrogance in the leader. Because of their insecurity, they want to control everything, or because of their arrogance, they think they know better and want to “make sure” people do it right.
It may be that the leader thinks there is one specific way to do it (their way), so they make sure the task is done that specific way.
Sometimes, though, it’s because expectations aren’t clear or because the leader abdicated their responsibility and they didn’t check in on the progress of the task.
They give the task, and the person works on it, but they don’t check in. When the deadline is looming nearby, they find out the task isn’t what they wanted, so they jump in, take over, or then begin to micromanage to make sure it’s done right.
That’s why with autonomy comes clear expectations, communication, and effective accountability.
Do: Provide clear expectations
Make sure your expectations are crystal clear, whether about someone’s job overall or a specific task or project they will be working on.
It can be easy to assume that someone knows what you mean by something or that they are thinking about it the same way you do – but that’s generally not the case.
Assumptions and vague expectations can be a killer of productivity.
Make sure the instructions and expectations are clear. One easy way to make sure is to ask. You can say something like:
“I just want to make sure I was clear about the expectations/instructions. Do you mind repeating back to me/telling me what you heard so that I can make sure I stated everything clearly?”
For a project task, you want to be 100% clear about what the expected outcomes and results are, etc.
For a job description, you want to be clear about what that person is being hired to do and accomplish. You should be able to tell them that in 6 months, 12 months, etc. this is how you and they know they are being successful.
One way to do that with job descriptions is to let someone else not involved with the department/role read the description and tell you what they think the expectations are.
If they can’t, keep working on it till they can.
Don’t: Be vague or unrealistic with your expectations (or just assume they should know)
Too many job descriptions are vague. They list general duties of what the person might do (plus “other duties as assigned”), but it’s not specific to what is expected.
Then the individual may spend weeks or months doing what they think they are supposed to be doing only to find out later it wasn’t.
Sometimes the boss themselves doesn’t even know what is expected of the person, and if the boss doesn’t know, that’s not good.
Similarly, expectations can sometimes be vague. “Handle the social media”. That can mean a lot of things.
Again, you want to be as specific as you can about what is expected. In that case, what do you mean by “Handle the social media?” What will that look like? What are the expected outcomes?
Expectations can also be completely unrealistic. “Produce 50 Instagram Reels, Youtube Shorts, and TikTok videos per day plus 20 quote posts for the other platforms…”.
You do want to set high expectations because people often live up to the expectations you give, but, at the same time, make sure it’s in a realm of realism with the resources and time available.
(Though, if the 50 shorts etc is something you are looking for, you could bring in the team/individual and ask, “Okay, this would be our ideal goal – what would we need, what would we have to have, what would need to happen for this to be possible…”)
Do: Communicate well (frequently and as fully as you can)
Communicating well just makes sense.
When people have all the information, they can make better decisions in their jobs. They can do their work better and make sure it’s on track because they are better informed.
It also builds loyalty and trust. When you share all the information, what’s going on, etc., people feel more trusted. It helps cut out the rumors and gossip that come from a lack of communication.
Open communication also helps others generate more ideas and be more innovative.
You want to communicate as much information as you can. Don’t hold back out of distrust or fear. When things are going poorly, the more and faster you communicate, the fewer rumors and more loyalty you build with your team.
You also want to communicate frequently. One time is not enough. If something is important, repeat it over and over. If your missions and values are important, for example, make sure they are frequently communicated.
What is important is repeated. Share as much information as you can.
Don’t: Hide/Hold onto information
Some leaders hide or hold on to information. They may do this for several reasons.
It may be a lack of trust. They don’t trust their team, so they withhold information from them. They keep their team in the dark because they fear what their team may do with it.
It may be a sense of control or power. By holding on to the information, they are in the know and others aren’t. By controlling it, they have a form of power.
It also may be because they don’t know better or they think that’s normal because that is what they experienced as an employee in the past.
Hiding information just hurts you. It builds distrust with your employees and team and it causes rumors and gossip to happen.
If something is going on, and you don’t say anything as leadership, others will be saying something, it just may not be the truth. And usually, as humans, what we assume is negative.
As much as possible, you want to build a culture where information is freely and openly passed and passed frequently.
A leader needs to be someone who listens and listens well.
Sometimes leaders think they are supposed to have all the answers and come up with all the solutions. Not so.
One of the best actions you can take as a leader is to take time to listen.
Listen to your employees’ feedback – so you can grow and get better as a leader.
Listen to the ideas your employees have – because it’s likely they have great ideas, some even better than yours.
In meetings, listen before speaking. Get other people’s input first.
Don’t: Think you have all the answers
Let’s just be frank – you don’t have all the answers. You don’t know everything – and you aren’t supposed to.
And, the truth is, the higher up in management you are, generally, the more detached you are from the reality of what is going on on the front lines.
What often happens, though, is leaders don’t realize that. They think because they are a leader and have the view from their position, they know the answers.
So instead of asking and listening, they just make new rules and policies that end up frustrating and annoying employees and hurt instead of help.
Don’t be that way. Realize you may be more detached than you realize and take time to listen.
Do: Show appreciation
“No news is good news” doesn’t work. People want to be seen and noticed for the work they do.
In fact, many people quit their jobs, or their productivity is reduced because of a lack of appreciation (some stats).
Make appreciation part of what you do as a leader. Take time to notice and let people know you appreciate them.
A simple thank you (with a specific why you are thanking them) can be powerful in itself. A handwritten note is something that people sometimes keep for years.
Make sure your people feel seen and recognized for the work they do. If possible, try to give everyone on your team some form of appreciation at least once a week.
Don’t: Only give negative feedback
Sometimes the only feedback employees get is when something goes wrong. Or if they do get “positive” feedback, it’s in “the sandwich” to try to make the negative feedback sound better.
When all you give is negative feedback, it’s demoralizing and can lower productivity.
Don’t be that way.
Do: Handle conflict well
First, we need to clear up something: conflict in itself isn’t bad. You want people debating ideas and disagreeing with one another. It’s how you get better ideas and make better decisions.
However, when people are attacking one another personally or gossiping or people have vendettas against one another – that’s an issue.
As a leader, you should encourage disagreement (including with yourself) and get people to share alternate points of view.
You want to develop a culture with a growth mindset where it’s about finding the best idea, not about status or defending one’s own idea.
You also want to help your team learn how to deal with conflict among themselves. Help them learn to disagree with one another effectively and confront or give feedback when needed.
At the same time, you shouldn’t allow any toxic or negative conflict or behaviors. Deal with those promptly.
Don’t: Avoid conflict
There are a couple of ways leaders avoid conflict.
First, they are about “unity” and “consensus”. They don’t tolerate anyone disagreeing at all. They see it as bad. If a team member brings up something in a meeting contrary to popular opinion, it’s seen as being negative.
It can be especially bad for some if you disagree with the leader and their idea (gasp!).
Second, some leaders hide from conflict. It makes them uncomfortable dealing with it when it’s negative and toxic, so they leave it going unchecked.
That, of course, can create an incredibly unhealthy and toxic culture.
As a leader, encourage the right kind of conflict, and, if it is negative, deal with it promptly.
Do: Develop your team (and new leaders)
Helping your employees grow just makes sense.
When your employees are growing in their jobs and as people, they will be more productive and get greater results. It can also help with motivation as, according to Daniel Pink in Drive, mastery is one of the foundational motivators of humans.
It’s also important to grow leaders in your team and organization. This is important for a couple of reasons.
First, succession is important. When you leave, you want leaders around who can carry the baton (carry on well) without you.
It’s also just plain smart – since the success of an organization is built on leadership, you want great leadership throughout your organization. The more great leaders you have, the greater your organization will be.
Don’t: Avoid training your team because you think the competition will steal them (or think they will outdo you)
There’s an old cliché saying that goes something along the lines of:
1st person: What if I train my team and they leave?
2nd person: What if you don’t and they stay?
Sometimes leaders fear training their employees because they are afraid the competition will take them when they are trained (and that can happen).
However, not training means you have a lot of untrained not-so-productive people working for you.
If that’s really your fear, then you need to look at the culture of your organization and how you compensate your employees.
If your employees are quick to jump ship as soon as they can, it’s likely not an individual employee issue.
Sometimes leaders fear training people because they are insecure. They are afraid of someone else doing well and making them look bad.
Don’t be that way (either of these). Grow your team. If you fear people “outdoing” you, you need to deal with that insecurity (and just grow yourself, too!).
And, the truth is, when your team does well, it makes you look good as a leader, not bad.
Do: Provide vision and purpose
Vision unites. When people have a common goal, a common direction, then they can work together toward that goal.
It also provides purpose, because there is a purpose behind what they are doing. And, according to Daniel Pink in Drive, purpose is one of the driving motivators of humans.
As a leader, you want to provide a clear direction for your team.
Now, you don’t have to be the executive to cast direction. If you are guiding people on a hike, you didn’t create the destination, but you are leading the group there.
In whatever position you are in (or even if you don’t have a position), you don’t have to create the destination, but you “own” a destination and guide people toward it.
More than that, you can create your own goals and direction based on the overall vision of the organization to move your team toward it.
Also, when it comes to providing purpose, make sure your people see the purpose in their work. Let them see how their work impacts the bigger picture, helps others, etc.
Help them see the why for their work.
Don’t: Give no purpose or direction
A lack of clarity creates division.
That’s how silos are often built. There isn’t a strong goal that everyone is pursuing, so everyone begins pursuing their own – and everyone thinks theirs is the most important.
Instead of working together, they start seeing each other as competition fighting for resources, etc.
On a more individual basis, when your team members don’t find purpose in their work, when they see it as useless drudgery, with no meaning in it, it can become incredibly demotivating.
It hurts productivity and morale and can cause your people to leave.
Develop a strong uniting purpose and help your team see the purpose and meaning in their work.
Do: Release your employees to make decision
You want to release (sometimes called “empower”) your employees to make decisions.
You want this for several reasons. First, it keeps you from being overworked and swamped with decisions.
Second, those dealing with the issues have the most information. It makes sense for them to make decisions related to their work.
Third, it also gives ownership. When your employees are able to make decisions in what they do, they take more ownership in what they are doing.
You, of course, want to train your team well, set clear expectations, and make sure information is free-flowing so that they have the right information to make the best decisions, but when you release your employees to make decisions, everyone benefits.
(And just think about a time when you called customer service and the agent had to go to their manager for everything – frustrating for you as the customer and likely demotivating (especially over time) for the agent as well (there’s no ownership in it). Think also about a time when the customer service agent was able to make decisions and help you on the spot – motivating for the agent and helpful for you!)
Don’t: Make all decisions go through you
When you make all decisions go through you, that’s not good.
First, when they have to go to you for everything, it’s demotivating to the employee and there’s no ownership.
Second, it overloads you and your work. Instead of focusing on what you probably should be focusing on, you are taking on everyone’s decisions and problems and doing it yourself. That’s a great way to become overworked and overstressed.
Why do leaders sometimes control all the decision-making?
It may be a sense of control and power. It may make them feel important to make all the decisions.
There may be a lack of trust and/or a sense of arrogance. They don’t trust their team’s ability to make decisions (or think they just can’t), so they do it themselves.
It an also be because that’s just what they think leaders are supposed to do – make all the decisions, be “decisive”.
Don’t be that way.
Train well, communicate well, set clear expectations, and release your team to make decisions in the realm of their jobs.
(Sidenote – hard truth: if you feel like you can’t trust your team – that’s on you as a leader in your hiring and training, etc.)
Do: Deal with negative behaviors promptly
You have to be proactive about the environment and culture you want in your organization.
While it is important to say what kind of culture you want and share the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, it’s also important to live it and to enforce it.
When negative behaviors happen, such as bullying, gossip, drama, harassment, or whatever other behaviors aren’t part of your culture, you must then by your actions show that’s not the behaviors you tolerate. You must deal with them
Dealing with negative behaviors can be hard, but if you are in a leadership position, that’s part of your job.
Don’t: Ignore or let negative behaviors grow and foster
When you tolerate negative behaviors, you are saying that that behavior is okay. It’s tacit agreement.
Even though you may say you don’t want certain behaviors – such as gossiping, backstabbing, drama, bullying, harassment, etc. – by not dealing with it when it happens, by ignoring it, you are saying that that behavior is acceptable.
When you ignore it, it also grows. People see it as okay, and those negative behaviors can easily spread.
Do: Clear away as much useless bureaucracy as you can
While certain policies and procedures are there for safety and legal reasons, most bureaucracy is there for the wrong reasons, and it hurts your team’s productivity instead of helping.
Except for legal, safety, and similar reasons, the only policies you should create are those that help productivity. If it doesn’t help boost productivity, you probably shouldn’t do it.
As a leader, you should clear as much of the useless bureaucracy as you can. Ask why that policy is there and if it’s helpful. Talk to your team and ask what works, what doesn’t, and what suggested changes they have.
The more useless bureaucracy you get rid of, the more productive (and probably motivated) your team will be.
Don’t: Create bureaucratic rules to control people or to deal with people problems
Hurtful bureaucracy is often created for two big reasons: to control people and to deal with people problems.
Some leaders are not very effective as leaders, and they don’t trust their people. They feel like they must control them and make them do what needs to be done.
So, to do that, they create a bunch of rules and then focus on making sure people follow the rules.
Other times there are people issues that happen. Someone messes up. Instead of just dealing with that one person directly, a new rule or policy is created that affects everyone. It’s a passive-aggressive way of dealing with people problems.
Over time, these policies build and it slows down productivity (and hurts motivation) a lot.
Except for legal, safety, etc. reasons, the only policies you should create are those that improve productivity. Using it to “control” or deal with people problems is ineffective, wasteful, and hurts productivity and morale.
Do: Model your expectations
As a leader/boss/manager, it’s not just what you say, it’s what you do. If something is important, you need to model it with your actions.
If it’s important to arrive on time, make sure you are on time if not early. If your company values are important, make sure you live them out.
If there are going to be pay cuts, make sure you take the first hit.
Make sure your actions match your words.
Don’t: Say “Do I as I say, not as I do”
“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work for kids, and it doesn’t work for adults either.
If you say something is important, but don’t live it out, it won’t be seen as important. In fact, enforcing something you don’t do yourself will be seen as hypocritical and hurt your influence and respect as a leader.
Do: Make timely decisions
Being decisive isn’t about rushing decisions, it’s about making the decision when it’s time.
Do vet ideas, explore alternatives, and get all the information that you can; however; when it’s time to decide, decide.
You will never be 100% sure of the decision and result, but you make the best decision you can with the information you have when it’s time to decide.
When is it time to decide? There can be multiple factors, such as the size and impact of the decision, etc.; however, one question you can ask is, “What is the cost of not deciding right now?”
Don’t: Rush or avoid making decisions
Sometimes leaders (and people in general) rush into decisions because they feel like they should be “taking action.”
So, instead of taking the time to vet an idea or decision, they “act” or decide.
Some leaders feel pressured to be “decisive”, so they do the same thing: they make quick decisions before truly exploring the decision.
On the flip side, some are very slow to act or make a decision. They try to be 100% sure or fear making a mistake or being wrong, so they delay and delay the decision (if they ever decide at all).
Or they try to get consensus from a group on everything, which bogs everything down.
Both mentalities can be harmful. You want to take the time to can to vet your decisions, but when it’s time to decide, decide.
Do: Serve your team
Leadership is about service.
It’s about you serving the team and the mission. It’s about you helping your team be their best to make the mission happen.
It isn’t about a special parking spot or special perks or the extra money or your career advancement, it’s about you serving and doing the hard work of leadership to make the mission happen.
Be about serving, not being served.
Don’t: Think leadership is about you
Leadership isn’t about you.
Sometimes (too many times) “leaders” see leadership positions as the reward they can get from it. They see it for the respect, money, power, and extra perks they get from it.
They may see it as a reward for their hard work.
The problem is, when it’s about you, it’s not about what leadership is truly about – accomplishing the mission.
To do that, you must do the hard work of leadership.
When you are about you, as Patrick Lencioni says in his book The Motive, you won’t do the hard work required.
Leadership isn’t about you or your team serving you, it’s about the mission and you serving your team to accomplish the mission.
Do: Act with integrity
Trust is vital as a leader. If your team can’t trust you, why would they follow you?
Think about with yourself. If you can’t trust someone, how much influence will they have with you? How much respect will you have toward them?
Will you follow them to the ends of the earth if you can’t believe what they say?
Be a person who speaks the truth, who follows through on their commitments, who does what they say they are going to do, who keeps confidences well, and who doesn’t cut corners.
This not only can save you from legal issues down the road, but it also helps build the influence you have with others, which is what leadership is built on.
Don’t: Do whatever it takes to “succeed”
Sometimes leaders take shortcuts to “win”, but in the end, it hurts them.
Not only that, when you are unethical or untrustworthy, you hurt that influence with your team.
When that happens, especially, in the long run, you get fewer results. Your good people will likely leave, and you will be stuck with other people like you – untrustworthy and unethical.
Act with integrity. Speak truth. Do what is right, even when it’s hard, even if it keeps you from “winning” short-term.
In the long run, it’s worth it.
Do: Act with humility
Sometimes people have a flawed view of how leaders are supposed to be (and of humility itself). As Adam Grant says in his book, Think Again:
“Humility is often misunderstood. It’s not a matter of having low self-confidence…. It’s about being grounded – recognizing that we’re flawed and fallible… You can be confident in your ability to achieve a goal in the future while making the humility to question whether you have the right tools in the present.”
Humility isn’t about beating yourself up or woe is me or being a pushover, it’s realizing you are fallible and may not know everything, and that you can learn something from everyone. It can also be defined as thinking of oneself less.
When you act with humility, you listen better, you are more teachable, and you learn more. You also build greater influence and get more results as a leader because of it.
Don’t: Act with arrogance
Sometimes the image we are given of “leaders” are these over-the-top, arrogant leaders who “make things happen.”
That’s just not true, though. Great leaders aren’t arrogant, they are humble.
In fact, Jim Collins found that fact out in his study for his book Good to Great.
One of the things about arrogance, similar to what Adam Grant said in Think Again, is that it can make us complacent.
When you think you have the answer and know it all, you don’t listen. When you don’t listen, you miss out on vital information that can help you make better decisions or even discover better ideas than what you think is best.
And because of that, your results will suffer, even if it seems you are “getting results”.
It makes you unteachable and pushes people away. You will have less influence with people, and it hurts you and the organization in the long run.
Do: Delegate effectively
A big part of leadership is delegating effectively. Here are some tips for that:
- Be clear about expectations. Have them repeat back what they are to make sure they are on the same page.
- Check-in with them (or have them check in with you) to see how the project/task is coming along (how often will depend on the task and the person and their experience). Help them solve problems and ask what they may need from you.
- Make sure you open doors, provide the resources needed, and give them the authority they need to make it happen, along with any training they may need.
- When it’s over, debrief, see what can be learned from it, what changes could be made to make the process better in the future, and praise them for the job well done.
For more on how to delegate well, read the article The Definitive Delegation Guide for Leaders
Don’t: Absolve responsibility, micromanage, or try to do it all yourself
Sometimes leaders try to do it all themselves. It may be an inability on their part to delegate effectively, a lack of trust, or some form of insecurity or ego they have.
Sometimes, for the reasons above, leaders micromanage. They try to control every detail of what the person is doing, demoralizing the person and slowing down the process.
On the flip side, sometimes leaders absolve responsibility. They pass the task on and or then hands off. They don’t look at it again. Then, if things go wrong, then they may jump back in and resort to micromanaging or what-have-you.
Don’t do these. It’s important to delegate and delegate well.
Do: Ask for feedback and listen to criticism
As a leader, as a person, you want a growth mindset. You want to always be about learning and growing and getting better.
A great way to do that is to ask for feedback (and listen to it well). As humans, we have blind spots. We don’t always see everything about ourselves.
When we take the time to listen to feedback from others, we can learn more about ourselves and how to improve.
It’s not about our status or image, it’s about growing.
Don’t: Respond defensively or in anger
It’s one thing to “ask” for it; it’s another to actually receive it.
It already can be hard for a person to disagree or give feedback to a manager/boss, but when you react negatively, get defensive, argue, or what have you, then people will stop giving you feedback.
It doesn’t matter if you “say” you want it, if you respond poorly, you won’t get it.
Instead, when people give feedback, even if you disagree, just say “thank you”.
Do: Encourage disagreement
You want people to feel safe disagreeing with one another, whether at a meeting or outside it.
The mentality should not be about status or image or about one’s own idea, but it should be about accomplishing the mission, growth, and finding the best ideas.
To find the best ideas, you have to be able to disagree. You must be willing to hear alternate ideas and consider them. You want people to argue different viewpoints so you can fully vet an idea.
You want to hear disagreement on decisions you might be making to see where you may be missing something or potential pitfalls you may have missed.
You want good disagreement.
Don’t: Try to get consensus on every decision
This comes in multiple ways.
Sometimes people just want everyone to agree. They see any form of conflict as bad (we mentioned this one a ways above).
At the same time, some leaders try to get consensus on every decision. Everyone has to agree on a decision for it to be decided. While there may be times you want this, in general, it’s not helpful, but harmful.
The mentality should be that you debate a decision and ideas, but once the decision is made, everyone backs it and you move forward. You don’t have to agree with mind, but actions.
When you hold out on making decisions to get everyone’s agreement, you end up giving those few people who disagree more power than they should have.
You end up watering down what you are going to do to try to make everyone happy, which can easily make it where no one is truly happy, and what you end up with is ineffective.
Debate, decide (however you do it), then have agreement of action, not necessarily mind.
Don’t: Solve all problems for your team
It can be easy for us as leaders to want to jump in with advice or share our solutions. It can also be easy for us to take the problems our employees have and try to solve them ourselves.
Don’t do that.
First, when you quickly jump in with solutions or advice or just solve it for them, you aren’t doing your team a favor. You aren’t helping them grow.
You may not even fully understand the issue, but by jumping in, you just push what you think instead of what is right or best.
Then, because you solved it, they haven’t grown, and guess what will happen next time a problem pops up? They will come to you.
You then end up with a team that doesn’t think critically (because you do all the thinking for them) and who is dependent on you.
That then creates a burden on you because not only are you having to do all the work that you are supposed to do, but you are also solving everything for everyone else. That’s a great way to work extra hours and become overly stressed and burned out.
Do: Guide your team in solving their problems
As a leader, you want to help your team solve their problems, not solve them for them.
You want your team to think critically and be able to function without depending on you to solve everything.
Instead of jumping in with solutions, you want to ask questions and guide them in how to think and how to approach the problems they are facing.
When you do that, they become problem solvers themselves, and the results can be great.
Don’t: See showing vulnerability as a weakness
Showing vulnerability isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength.
Sometimes leaders hide mistakes because they fear it will make them look bad. They feel like they have to give this image of perfection.
Sometimes it’s arrogance or insecurity. They feel like if they admit a mistake, then people won’t respect them or it will hurt their image as a leader.
Sometimes leaders feel they are supposed to know everything. When they don’t, they don’t want to admit it because they fear it will, again, hurt their status and image as a leader.
If they show vulnerability, others may question why they are a leader.
So instead of admitting they don’t know something and asking for input, they make something up. The fake. They double down on it.
When this happens, eventually (if not immediately) it will be seen, and it will make you look weak as a leader.
Do: Apologize and admit mistakes (or when you don’t know)
Some leaders feel that, as a leader, they are supposed to know everything or that they aren’t supposed to make mistakes.
That’s just not true.
You aren’t expected to be perfect as a leader or to know everything. Everyone is human, and part of being a great leader is hiring great people who know more than you in different areas.
When you make a mistake, admit your mistake. When you don’t know something, admit you don’t know.
When you share your mistakes, it lets your team know mistakes are okay. It makes you more human and relatable. And, the truth is, your team likely already sees your mistakes, and when you hide them, it hurts your influence with them.
When you don’t know, say so. That’s how you learn. It’s better to look stupid once asking the question than to remain stupid to try to avoid looking stupid.
When you don’t, eventually it will be shown that you don’t, and it will, again, hurt your influence as a leader.
Don’t: Hold on to your idea like it’s your “baby”
Sometimes we can let a certain idea that we have become our “baby”.
We think it’s a great idea. We like it. We think it’s best. It’s what we want.
So we push it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the best idea. It doesn’t matter if there are other good ideas. It’s our idea and we are going to make it happen.
We then might shut off debate. We may get upset at others when they disagree. We may just push our idea over any objection – just because we like it.
When you do that, it’s harmful.
Not only does it shut down the disagreement and ideas that you (should) want now and in the future, but there’s a good chance what you are pushing isn’t that great (or can at least be improved upon).
Your people will lose respect and trust in you, and your effectiveness in the future as a leader and with your team as a whole will diminish.
Do: Be about the best idea
Instead, be about the best idea, not your idea. As a whole, you nor your team should ever be about defending one’s own idea or their status, it should be about exploring ideas and finding the best one.
It’s about the mission and goal and finding the best way to get there.
You want to encourage others to share ideas and disagree so you can find the best one.
Do: Constantly be learning
Always be learning. Always be growing.
Leadership is a skill and it’s a process. Just like any other skill, it takes time to learn.
Find what works for you: books, articles, courses, podcasts, etc., but don’t stop learning.
Look at your job duties and the outcomes you are supposed to get. What are the key tasks you are supposed to do? How can you grow in those areas?
What are your bottlenecks? What skills are holding you up? Typing? Communication? Learn in those areas.
Also, look at the different areas of your life. Sometimes people say their marriage or kids are important, for example, but they never take the time to learn or grow into being a better spouse or parent.
Don’t: Think you’ve arrived
If you think you’ve arrived, there’s quite a high chance you are wrong.
Leadership is a process, and great leaders never stop learning (at least, if they want to stay great).
For one, just in general, technology changes. Situations change. We forget things we’ve learned over time. If you aren’t growing, you are falling behind.
Thinking you’ve arrived also can be an arrogant attitude that will blind you to the truth, and it will keep you from succeeding.
And, if you think you’ve arrived, there’s a good chance you’ve fallen victim to the Dunning Kruger Effect.
Don’t: Get upset or jealous when employees outdo you
Some leaders see their team members as threats. They fear that if their team members do well or shine, then it makes them look bad.
So, instead of rejoicing or helping their team do well, they get upset. They may sabotage. They may undermine.
They hire people who they know won’t “outdo” them instead of hiring the best possible employees, all in the name of making themselves look good.
They are more focused on themselves, their status, and their career than the mission.
Do: Rejoice when your employees or team do well and shine
Instead, when your employees do well and shine, rejoice with them. Praise them for it. Celebrate it.
Hire the best people.
If you fear others outdoing you, you’ve got some insecurities or other issues you need to deal with.
Here’s the thing: being a leader isn’t about you or your status. It’s about the mission. And with that when your team members do well, it doesn’t make you look bad, it makes you look good because your team is doing well.
Do: Deal with your team members in private
If there is an issue you need to discuss with one of your team members, do it privately.
If you are angry and want to lash out – stop! Wait till you are calm and discuss the issue with the person one-on-one.
Focus on the facts, not assumptions or opinions. Use I statements. Ask questions.
Doing so treats the person with dignity, and you are more likely to get better results from those conversations.
Don’t: Giving public reprimand
In one of my jobs, I sometimes drove the truck with the equipment we needed to install. One day after we had dropped off and installed the equipment, we came back to the main office.
While I was driving back, the supervisor over the project had followed me in a vehicle behind the truck.
At some point after we arrived, I was in the hallway near the offices of my main boss and the owner of the company – both who happened to be in the hallway at the time.
That’s when that supervisor decided to correct me on issues. He, in front of everyone, told me I needed to do better with the blinkers when changing lanes. He said I did not leave them on long enough.
Now, that might be true – but the way he handled it was poor. It seemed he was more trying to show that he was on top of things with the bosses or trying to impress them somehow, but it was very embarrassing for me.
If he had just said something when we arrived or later one-on-one, it would have been no big deal and an easy fix.
Don’t give public reprimands. It just builds ill will with the person and all those around who hear it. It’s also less likely to solve the problem.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Leadership
There you have it – the do’s and don’ts of leadership.
Were they all of the possible do’s and don’ts? Likely not. But, if you follow these, it will help you greatly in your journey as a leader.
Now to you: What other do’s and don’ts should leaders follow?