6 Things Great Leaders Don’t Do

by | Coaching, Leadership, Talent Management

“What should you do if you’re in a meeting with one of your employees, and they become so upset that they try to throw something at you?”

This was a question posed to me on an otherwise normal day, in the midst of facilitating leadership development. To make it even stranger, it came from one of the most senior people in the room amongst this group of leaders.

So many things ran through my mind in the next few seconds, and so many questions. Instead, I turned to ask the other leaders in the room and asked, “What does everyone else think?”

One of the brand new team leaders, who had just been promoted to a role with two direct reports, responded, “It sounds like the employee is not in the right frame of mind to continue the meeting, so I would suggest to them that we take a pause and come back to it the following day.”

Treat this employee like a human? A novel, and welcome thought.
In leadership development or coaching I’m often asked:

  • What qualities does a good leader possess?
  • What personality style makes the best leader?
  • Which theory or framework for leadership is most effective?

To define the answers to some of these questions, it’s sometimes easier to talk about the things that great leaders DON’T do.

1. They don’t bullshit

Great leaders don’t bullshit their people. They are transparent. When something is going down in an organisation, they are upfront about it. Even when they can’t tell their team the whole truth, they share what they can without sugar-coating it.
They are honest, but not blunt; more like honest with a side of compassion and empathy. They say it how it is, and deliver the message with genuine empathy, having thought about how it will impact on the team.

2. They don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations

When the going gets rough and there are uncomfortable conversations to be had, whether about performance, feedback, mental health or interpersonal conflict, great leaders front up to these conversations quickly and with positive intent. They look for a solution that works for both parties, not the one that works just for the organisation or just the individual. And they don’t stop at one conversation – if the challenge endures, they continue to be upfront.
People always know where they stand with a great leader because if something is not going well, the leader is talking about it. If something is going well, the leader gives ready praise and gratitude.

3. They don’t multi-task during conversations and meetings

They know people need their time. When someone comes to them with an issue, they put down their phone, look away from their computer screen, stop looking for that budget approval they need to sign immediately, and take the time to look the person in the eye, and really listen to what’s going on.
They ask questions to understand, and ensure the person leaves the conversation having felt heard. They know doing this builds trust, respect and rapport – all things that pave the way to make working together easier in the long run.

4. They don’t do things the way they have always been done

They know that thriving in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world means we need to constantly adapt our thinking and our ways of doing business. They won’t accept the way the company has always done expenses if this is causing their team hours of lost time in productivity and frustration – even if this system was only implemented six months ago.
They question the status quo, challenge the long-term employee who has always done it this way, push for improvements and a better and faster way of doing things. They advocate for genuine shifts within the organisation. They make things happen.

5. They don’t allow their team to dissolve around them

When there are personality clashes or stakeholder demands causing team friction, great leaders notice the friction and ensure their team knows they have noticed it. They treat the individuals concerned like fully functioning adults and expect them to find their own solution. If the team members don’t swiftly deal with issue, the leader makes it clear that the behaviour needs to change, and hold the team members accountable for making this happen.

The great leader knows that interpersonal friction can cause massive collateral damage to the rest of the team and other stakeholders. They know how important teaming is, and how quickly the apple cart can be upset by just one or two people.

6. They don’t pretend to be an expert on everything to everyone

Great leaders don’t show up to meetings and conversations like experts who have all the answers to dictate the way forward. They are curious, ask questions, listen to different perspectives, and invite new stakeholders into the conversation. They readily admit to not having all the answers, and encourage others to help them find a new way forward.

They know that the pace of change is now so fast that decisions which were once clear cut are now much more complex and likely to change in the blink of an eye.
There’s a multitude of people who may have more information on these issues, so they utilise this network to help them understand the challenges and empower their teams to make the best decision based on the information available.

Leadership is not a science – there is no right and wrong or hard and fast way of being an effective leader. Great leadership requires lifelong learning, assessing, adjusting, taking action, and showing up as our real selves.

It’s not rocket science; it’s simply about being a good human.