Solving The 12 Dumbest Things Leaders Do
The most important thing you do happens after you do something dumb.
#1. Focusing on low performers while neglecting high performers.
Solution: Spend most of your development resources on “B” performers. Reward “A’s.” Develop “B’s.”
#2. Declaring conclusions. You’ve been mulling something over for a few days, then bam, you share your conclusion.
Solution: Engage people early and often. You’re going to explain yourself before or after you make a decision.
#3. Getting lost in the weeds. A leader in the weeds ends up frantic, defeated, or both.
Solution: Reconnect with purpose and mission when frustration persists. Remember what you’re trying to accomplish. Take a small step forward.
#4. Forgetting you intimidate people because of your position or title.
Solution: Relax. Breathe. Smile. Maintain low tones.
#5. Believing all the good things people tell you.
Solution: Find the people who tell you the unvarnished truth and give them a raise.
#6. Giving feedback only when things go wrong.
Solution: Create feedback systems that are implemented regardless of outcome.
#7. Treating everyone the same. What inspires one, discourages another.
Solution: Learn the values of teammates. Use relational language with those committed to relationships, for example.
#8. Creating artificial urgency.
Solution: Don’t pretend there’s an emergency in order to fuel energy. Remember people do things for their reasons not yours.
Solution: Shut-up if you tend to interrupt.
#10. Relying on email when things get heated.
Solution: Pick up the phone when things get hot. Better yet, show up in someone’s doorway.
#11. Allowing people to talk theory rather than action in meetings.
Solution: Ask, “Who does what by when,” over and over.
#12. Spending too much time talking about problems and not enough exploring options.
Solution: Say, “I hear what went wrong. What might we do about it?” After the first suggestion say, “What else,” two or three more times.
What are the top three dumb things leaders do?
What might you add to the list by way of dumb things or solutions?
Hi Dan – I am a huge fan of your blog. I felt compelled to comment on this particular blog and your very first point. I feel it is vital for leaders to not just reward “A” performers, but must not forget to develop them as well, whether to improve performance in a current position, or for future positions, even leadership. Top talent that is not developed, particularly if that talent is moved into a leadership role, will usually become complacent, not relevant, or not capable of handling next level positions. As leaders, we can also reward our top performers with developmental assignments that will teach key competencies as they move forward in their career. Rewards are nice, but if the rewards only encourage a performer to keep doing the same job well, eventually that performer will get passed up.
Thanks Rob. I appreciate the good word and your insights. I feel your passion on this topic. Thank you for bringing broader perspective to development.
The idea of developing A players for new roles or leadership really resonates with me. (Not to discount your other thoughts.)
I’m thankful you expanded a general concept into useful application.
Just rolling back to some of these older posts.
I see what Rob is saying about not just rewarding the A performers. But I think part of this is the way we view and measure A performers. The stars of a team, in my opinion, might not be the biggest producers.
To me a star goes out of their way to help other people succeed. The star makes reasonable sacrifices for the success of team and organization, using their best to make everyone shine. And to me, the crowning characteristic of the star is the relentless, bold, and consistent demonstration of positive attitude that inevitably improves bad situations. Some high producers carry these qualities. But the high producer can’t maintain without the support of the star.
What I’ve seen in a few spots is those that seem self-sustaining, like they don’t need the help to succeed, don’t get much attention or development support from management. It seems important to encourage and support even those operating higher up on the independence curve.
It’s a balance. I feel a personal sense of responsibility for helping folks wherever they happen to be on the performance scale. So I don’t like reading into articles the implication that we should ignore one group to apply more energy to another.
Bad leaders make assumptions and declare them as facts. Good leaders realise it’s just assumptions and try to verify if they were correct.
Thanks Cross. I take this as a challenge that comes with being quick minded and/or decisive. Thanks for adding your insights.
Dan, I too am a fan. I think this is a good list and as I look I over I realize everyone I know has made one or more of these mistakes – including me. Think your point of realizing when you’ve made the mistake and being self aware enough to correct is key.
Thanks Mark. I’m with you. We’ve all done dumb things. I find it helpful to keep looking forward especially after doing something dumb. Learn, adapt, and steady on.
Dan, thank you for another great, thought-provoking blog. In response to your question about the top 3 things leaders do:
1. Manage rather than lead — no clear vision, purpose, or direction
2. Micromange — squelches initiative, engagement, and enthusiasm
3. Ignore informed inputs — isolates “leaders” from reality and diminishes opportunities to improve
Thanks Paul. Great addition.
Bob Chapman, who wrote Everybody Matters, told me to stop using the word “manage.” 🙂
Thoughts to ponder: The A performers aren’t all that in most cases. Sometimes it is a delusion – It is not real. The A performers in many cases are just attention hogs and good at schmoozing. Schmoozers are alive, well and undetected at the leadership level (fascinating that this occurs). These folks play a role and a lot of times it is an ego issue, a way that some compensate for low self esteem. Many A performers lack character and integrity. They treat the leader in a different way than they treat others on the team. The leader is often unaware of this differential treatment. Another way to respond to this team phenomenon is to reward all performers on your team, treating everyone as mission critical. The A performer dynamics can become an impediment to the team growing and realizing their full potential. It creates a level of negativity that lives within the group which is just plain yucky and gets really old. Ugh.
Thanks Erin. It’s great that you expand the view of A-players.
The idea that there are some exceptionally talented people feels awkward in a world that is troubled by someone standing out more than others. This brings up the possibility of keeping everyone in the comfortable middle.
Being successfully with talented people is an important responsibility of leadership. It’s true, they can be disruptive. Some of the most talented people could be arrogant asses. But remember that many medical and scientific breakthroughs were made by arrogant people who didn’t always get along well with others.
People who are exceptionally talented in one area are often exceptionally untalented in others. Is it worth it to lose their talent? Perhaps.
Thanks again for a thought provoking comment.
Top 3 Dumb Things Leaders Do: (maybe not the top 3, but ones I would add)
1) Treat every “challenge” as a crisis.
2) Overreact to said “crisis” and immediately implement a new rule.
3) Let emotions drive the bus.
Thanks Beth. I particularly enjoy #2. “Implement a new rule.” You made laugh because it’s so true.
Something I am finding out these days is that my employees don’t care what I know anymore…they are looking to see if I care for them
Thanks Bob. Another powerful contribution. thank you.
Agree with all but 11. In education, especially, one has to figure out what theory is going to drive the action steps, and that takes a bit of debate at times.
Thanks Jody. You bring an interesting perspective. I start to get antsy when talk doesn’t lead to action. I can see that exploring theories is more about theory than action.
Dumb things leaders do: Assuming past success and good track record gives them some level of invincibility towards being wrong or making future mistakes, or makes other people’s opinions of lesser value than their own opinions.
Thanks Excerpts. Sometimes, success is a bigger test than failure. Good point.
Hi Dan, great blog!! While avoiding these, and other, dumb things is obviously important, so is reflecting on your behaviours and developing a recovery plan if you’ve strayed into the Dumb Zone!
Thanks John. Leaders face forward and stay positive. Glad you jumped in.
Great post! Especially agree with #12
Thanks Tom. Much appreciated.
Hi Dan, it’s really works, agreed with all points covered especially 5#,I am a very new blogger and follower of your great posts, it will help me a lot of my development
A dumb thing we do…stay in the leadership role when it’s not what we expected.
How many times is a person ‘promoted’ because he/she is doing an amazing job in the current role – only to find that he/she doesn’t like, or isn’t suited to, the new role? The flame dies and all that’s left is smouldering ash, trapped in a role because of the renumeration or kudos that comes with the position.
Dumbest thing: Doing it yourself when you can delegate and delegating when only you have to do it.
Again a very nice post, Dan. Your opening catch line, “The most important thing you do happens after you do something dumb” resonates as it hones in on a critical personal attribute that is often missing or under-appreciated: Which of two questions do we ask when confronted with a crisis or stressful situation, and how do we respond? (see http://wp.me/p2k440-ju). The attribute looms larger when we “do something dumb” and create the crisis or stress ourselves.
Thanks Jim. I need the reminder that the dumb thing isn’t the end!
Thanks so much for adding your insights and extending the conversation.
Thank you, too, Dan, for your consistently challenging insights.
My three leadership failure patterns:
1. Arrive late at meetings
2. Leave meetings early
3. Rejecting solutions proposed by people who have thought much more deeply about the problem than they have
In theory, these are easy to fix – all the leader need do is decide not apply these failure patterns. In practice, leaders are rarely challenged on such destructive behaviour. The cultural impact of eliminating these failure patterns is profound!
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