Don’t be a lazy leader: 3 bad habits to avoid

It’s the start of a new year and a great time to take stock of where you are and where you are going as a leader.  The ability to think clearly and make the best decisions is a key part of any leader’s role.  Yet, many leaders tend to fall into bad thinking patterns—especially after a couple of years on the job.  Here are three of the most common bad habits and what to do to avoid them.

1. Either-Or thinking

Executives are asked to make decisions—and they get more difficult the higher up you are.  People or profits?  Centralized or decentralized?  Frontline decision-making or command and control?  Leaders will often have to choose from among opposing viewpoints and the people supporting those viewpoints will be expecting and asking you to endorse either Plan A or Plan B.

Always consider a Plan C first.  While opposing camps argue for why their plan will work while the other point of view won’t, see if you can find a solution that incorporates the best of both proposals while minimizing the downsides.

For example, should we empower our frontline people to make decisions? Yes.  Is there the possibility that they will make mistakes if we do?  Yes.  Does that mean we have to choose between all decisions being made at the frontline, or all decisions being made at headquarters?  No.  There is a better decision that allows frontline decision-making and maintains accuracy and consistency.  Find it.

2. Confusing decision-making with taking action

As a leader, it is easy to think that your job is primarily to make decisions.  Decision-making is only the first step.  The purpose of leadership is to take action and move.  If five frogs are sitting on a log and one decides to jump, how many frogs are still sitting on the log?  The answer is five until the decision to jump is actually acted upon.  Don’t confuse decision-making for taking action.  Take action!

3. Making announcements with little follow-through

If good decision-making is hard—taking action is even more difficult.  The biggest trap for leaders is focusing too much time on getting things started and too little time on following through to achieve results.  Legendary former chairman of Herman Miller, Max De Pree once likened leadership to being a third-grade teacher when he said that it oftens means repeating things over, and over, and over again until people get it right, right, right.  As a leader you need to keep the vision alive—even after the newness wears off.  You also have to provide people with the tools and resources they need to get the job done.  Remember that there is a strategic and a tactical side to leadership.  To be effective, you have to be good at both.

Resources to help you get started

There are a lot of great resources available to help leaders get started or stay focused on making decisions and taking action.  Here are three that focus specifically on each of the points above.

  • To help combat either-or thinking, check out Polarity Management by Barry Johnson.  It details a step-by-step process for finding the best solution when faced with seemingly opposite choices.
  • Who Killed Change?  A great book which identifies the “usual suspects” that kill good ideas in companies and keeps decisions from turning into action.
  • Helping People Win at Work  Identifies a clear, 3-step process for setting goals, providing resources, and following up effectively.

Make 2012 your best year ever.  Exercise your decision-making power.  Strive for the best solutions, take action, and follow-up.  You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve when you do!

15 thoughts on “Don’t be a lazy leader: 3 bad habits to avoid

  1. Nice simple post, thanks David

    I realise I am doing number 2 with my family at the moment

    I am also reading Covey’s “3rd Alternative” at the moment – some good ideas on dealing with Number1


    • Hi Dan–thanks for the comment and for the heads-up on Covey’s “3rd Alternative.” It sounds interesting! I going to check it out on Amazon right now. Thanks

    • Hi Brian–It is easy to fall into these habits–especially if you are making a large number of decisions. Hopefully, this post will encourage leaders to stop a minute, reflect on their own thinking habits, and adjust if necessary. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Nice post, I love the tips. I recently realized I tend to get stuck in the decision making stage because I try to plan too many of the details before taking action. I now try to balance the amount of time spent making a decision and acting on the path chosen.

    • Hi Keith. I do the same thing–a tendency to try and think through all of the possibilities and details with the strategy at the expense of the tactical action part of the plan. The best bet, of course, is to have a strong focus on both planning and execution. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Thanks for the challenging post. I really like your comments on point 1 and choosing option C. It can be easy to believe that the only options are the extremes and miss the benefits of a more nuanced approach.

    Points 2 & 3 are also a very good reminder for me – I tend to think and worry about making the right decisions or getting things right, but implementation is as important, if not more.

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Tim–it’s easy to fall into the either/or trap with decision-making. The biggest challenge is that people tend to want to position options this way–even when it’s not necessary. The best leaders take a minute and try to find the good that lies in both options. Often you can put together a “best of both” decision that accomplishes all of the good objectives. Thanks for your comment.

    • Hi Johan–I think all of of us can relate to recognizing how much more effective we could have been knowing back then what we know now. Hopefully we are now older and wiser! Thanks for your comment.

  4. It is very easy to fall into a rut of where you are comfortable with the role of a leader and then become lazy, as you rightly refer to in your post. The key is to constantly monitor yourself and your actions and to watch for these lazy leading patterns. I think your post highlights three very important areas that a leader needs to monitor.

    • Hi Stephan–The combination of experience (and success) can often lead to a complacency among experienced leaders if they don’t take time to pause and reflect on their behavior.
      Interestingly, these same bad habits can turn up in new leaders if they see their role as mostly strategic (telling people what to do) and forget about the importance of working together with people to operationalize the plans. Thanks for your comment.

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