We all have bad habits, there is no denying this. This is not a post about cigarettes, drugs, more exercise, or anything else you are conjuring. Rather, this is a post about the kind of habits – many of which might seem innocuous to you – that are stagnating, or worse, negatively affecting the growth of your business. In every industry there are many competitors, a few that make it to greatness, and even fewer that have a home run hit. Think Fisker Automotive vs. Tesla Motors. What is the key element in these successful companies? Timing, funding, opportunity, luck, leadership? Here’s my opinion on what it takes to be a great leader.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t build character. It eliminates the weak ones.
— Omar Sayyed (@omarsayyed) April 4, 2016
Everything you do has consequences for your team. For the last 6 years, this has been my mantra to my executive team. Everything we do trickles down in some form to the rest of our team. In other words, our decisions and actions have either positive or negative lasting effects on everyone else. Our actions are the physical manifestations of our habits. It is almost certain that you are guilty of some of these bad habits – but hopefully, not all.
1. You’re Overcomplicating [Nearly] Everything
A college professor once told me that if he asked his undergrad English class to correct Shakespeare’s work, the students would come back with a ton of corrections. The point is, making something excessively complicated does not necessarily yield better results. There is no direct relationship between a overly complicated process and a perfect or near perfect end-result. “Keep it simple, stupid” is perhaps one of the most understated and overlooked axioms in modern times. Overcomplicating a process or a task often happens naturally as more and more people are added to a particular project. Complicating a process can be a source of irritation for your employees. Be careful that you are not bottlenecking everything for the sake of feeling involved.
2. You’re a Hinderance
Let’s be clear, you’re not Gates, Musk, or Bezos. If you’ve hired the right people, your company will scale much faster if you get out of their way. If you are leading every meeting, calling every shot, and having the last word, you are probably more of a hinderance to the process than you can imagine. Perhaps more true with smaller teams, but ultimately if you believe that your way is the only way, you’re probably wrong. Jobs was famously quoted saying “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” So hire smart people, and be smart enough to get out of their way.
3. You Lack Mental Toughness
The comedian Bill Burr had a dog with a very aggressive personality. Burr decided to take his dog to a trainer to avoid any accidents. When the trainer observed Burr playing and interacting with his dog, it became apparent what the problem had been all along. Burr is a self-described “constantly angry” person. He regularly yells at the news, during sports games, and generally any time he doesn’t get his way. His dog’s behavior was simply a reflection of Burr’s actions. Burr lacked the mental toughness to digest and process bad news that he came across. While lacking mental toughness is not a habit in itself, not recognizing it is a kind of bad habit. If you easily fly off the handle, display signs of passive aggressiveness towards your team, are easily offended by the actions of others, then you certainly lack mental toughness. You’re likely not fooling anyone. Your team sees your stress levels and reacts accordingly. So if you have a morale issue in your company, a good place to start is with yourself.
4. You Take Credit for the Work of Others or You Don’t Give Credit
Running a company is like being in a marriage with kids. Your cofounder(s)/ partner(s) are your spouse(s). Your team members are your children and your board members are your parents. For now, let’s focus on your team. As a CEO or Department Head, it is your responsibility to make sure your team feels appreciated for their work, valued for their dedication, and rewarded for their contributions. Imagine coming home to “… hey honey, little Suzie took her first steps today!!” You don’t immediately turn around and exclaim that it was you who taught her how to walk. Or imagine getting a call from your child’s preschool because little Carl is being honored for being a giving person. You don’t hang up the phone and take credit for his actions… at least I hope you don’t. Your work should be the same way. Instead of taking credit, be proud of your team’s accomplishments. Be proud of what they do without you. You should take pride that you have built such an amazing team that accomplishes great things with or without you.
So you don’t take the credit, but do you do enough to make sure your team’s efforts are recognized? I am not a person who celebrates mediocrity. If you know me or have heard me speak, you know that I don’t subscribe to giving everyone a trophy for the sake of their feelings. That said, as a CEO or a leader in your company, it is your job to make sure that your A players’ contributions don’t go unnoticed. It is often not about the accomplishment itself but the ramification of how positively it makes the rest of the team feel. Take every opportunity you can to rejoice is your team’s contributions, no matter how small or insignificant to you or the overall picture. Coincidently, today we celebrated a change in our ISP. I know, it seems trivial but we had a great time doing it. Everyone, including you, needs a tip of the hat every now and then.
5. You’re a Hypocrite
Nothing ruins trust more than saying one thing but doing the opposite. I personally think this is worse than lying. At least with lying it’s pretty straight forward – your motivations are either to mislead or at best to protect someone from an awful truth. However, hypocrisy is outright mischievous and deceitful. It has the effect of eroding your integrity. It creates turmoil for your team. Hypocrisy insinuates insidiousness and manipulative tendencies. Like lying, when you say one thing and do the opposite it degrades your character and undermines trustability. Stephen Covey characterized this phenomenon as depleting your emotional bank account – the more you do it, the less “funds” you have until it hits zero or goes into a negative balance. As a leader, when you say something, people will take it for its face value. When you practice hypocrisy your team members will start questioning every benefit of the doubt that was given. Don’t deplete your bank.
6. You Don’t or Can’t Commit
Your team needs commitment from you. If you are the kind of leader that is no longer committed to the cause, committed to the team, committed to the project, committed to the message, committed to the company, that’s okay. It may be time for you to move on or take some time off to realign your goals. There is nothing wrong with being at odds with things going on around you. However, when you don’t or can’t commit, you immediately start to negatively affect the people around you. Committed employees want to work for and work with committed leaders. Your commitment is directly related to your belief in a particular task, project, mission, or company. How can you ask your team member to commit to the bigger picture when you can’t commit to small tasks.
7. You Are Inconsistent
Consistency and credibility go hand in hand. Think of a person at work you deeply respect. I am willing to bet the farm that consistency is among the top 10 characteristics which allows you to respect this person. Consistency is a fundamental pillar upon which you ought to be building your team. Teams that constantly witness inconsistencies in their leadership lose respect. You being inconsistent affects your reputation. I should note that being consistently inconsistent is also not a good thing.
Your inconsistencies are more apparent when it has to do with people. As a CEO or a leader, when you treat people differently (because someone is your family, or has been there from the beginning, or you know them really well, or simply like them better) everyone sees it. You might get away with it a few times, but your people see it and you’re judged by it. People remember when you apply one set of expectations to them vs. others.
8. You ALWAYS Have an Answer
I don’t care who you are, you don’t have all the answers. Saying “I don’t know” when you are genuinely stumped is actually a sign of a good leader. It shows you know your limitations and that you are not always trying to solve every problem by throwing answers up against a wall. If he disagrees with you, Mark Zuckerberg knows to take his time to think before engaging. Sometimes this can take days. But he at least takes the time to think before presenting his argument. It is totally natural to feel poorly when your team is making decisions without you, especially if you are paying attention to other areas of the company (or your life). But this is no excuse to trump the work that other people have accomplished because you believe your idea might be better. Coming up with what you believe are “just suggestions” are actually mandates given your leadership position. This makes people feel that you don’t listen. Know the difference between being asked your opinion vs. when you’re just being brought up to speed. There is a significant difference.
9. You’re a Postmortem Armchair General
Hindsight bias is something we all have been guilty of from time to time. It is the inclination to claim that you would have known a negative outcome. Don’t be that person! Don’t tell your team “I told you so.” There is a difference between making sure your team learns from their mistake vs. belittling their efforts with smugness about how you would have obviously done it differently. You don’t code, you are not in marketing, you are not the creative person, you are not in sales, so don’t go there. It is very easy to judge others who are actually in the field of “battle” when you’re in your ivory tower. This is particularly a bad habit because when you’re in leadership it is generally acknowledged that you have some “super powers.” It is very easy to say “I wouldn’t have done it that way” afterwards. Don’t!
10. You Are Not Persistent
There is no order to this list but if there was, this would certainly be at the top. Even though persistence is not technically a habit, if you cultivate the right type of characteristics, you can have persistence. True persistence breeds grit. When you have grit, the world is yours. Grit is having passion and perseverance over a very long time, according to Psychologist Angela Lee Ducksworth. You need to reprogram your mindset and your daily habits to form a capacity for true grit. Grit is having faith, being consistent, working towards your goals, not getting distracted, etc. for a period of long time, especially if you don’t see the results of your actions right away.
11. You Distract
Jason Fried of Basecamp on the topic of a working remote vs. butts in seats once wrote: “…think about the narcissism of the idea that when you send an email or chat to one of your co workers, they must respond back fast…” to paraphrase. This got me thinking. It’s true. It takes a typical person 10-15 minutes to start focusing and really tackle their task. When you’re constantly interrupting your people you slow their thinking process down. This is even more problematic when someone is working on a complex problem and they are distracted. Distractions will kill your team’s curiosity, creativity, and discipline.
12. You Are Indecisive
We’ve all heard that saying that states “indecision is no decision.” Think of your circle of friends and I’m sure you can identify the most indecisive person in the group. Let’s be honest. You hate that about him/her. And if you can’t identify anyone, then you’re the indecisive one in the group. Now imagine working for someone who never makes any decisions, or worse, makes decisions and then changes his/her mind later on down the road.
“People who fail to accumulate money, without exception, have the habit of reaching decisions, if at all, very slowly, and of changing these decisions quickly and often.” – Napoleon Hill
Your indecisiveness leaves your employees in limbo and makes them feel helpless and frustrated. Indecision is a form of passive leadership which allows you to hide in fear of making the wrong decision.
You’re not perfect. To have bad habits is to be human. But possessing chronic habits that are costing you and your company respect, talent, money, time, and energy is debilitating. Work on identifying and isolating these habits. Being introspective about your own shortcomings is a sign of a good leader. These bad habits can affect your company’s momentum and growth. Make a plan to change. It can be slow and you can take one bad habit at a time. Ask for help from your trusted inner-circle. Your co-founders, your spouse, your best friend, your parents, etc.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to comment to shoot me an email.