the first step to better leadership

Like many people, I’m trying to get back in shape and it’s a dangerous process (bear with me – this is actually about leadership). Obviously, I don’t want to waste any time, money, or effort so I want the best diet and exercise program possible. That should be easy to figure out, right? After all, the number of fitness experts are legion so they should have worked out the best program years ago.

Except they haven’t. Not even remotely close. The fitness magazines all tout this month’s latest and greatest exercises and fast results diet plans. These “best practices”, if you will, differ from magazine to magazine, from issue to issue, and even article to article in the same issue.

If I’m honest, not only do I not need an Olympic level program, but I know that different people are different and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily create the same results for another. Even athletes on the same team have highly customized programs. Plus, I’m not looking for the level of sophistication required to move an athlete from national caliber to global competitor. I just want to not be terrible.

There’s an old saying: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. This is beautifully illustrated by the photo above. If things are going bad, the very first step is to stop doing things to make them worse. Rather than finding the best program ever, I’d be light years ahead to just stop doing the things destroying my fitness. It’s not a mystery why I’m not in the shape I want to be in: I eat too much, I eat too much of the wrong things, and I don’t exercise enough. How’s this for a first step fitness plan: stop eating so much; realize the beer, chocolate, and peanut butter aren’t helping matters; and stop being so sedentary. Eliminate the obviously bad, start small, build as I go, and improve incrementally. It’s pretty common sense and I don’t need the diet and fitness industry telling me what’s right. I just need to stop doing what I know is wrong.

Here’s where all this is about leadership:

If you’re trying to get better at leading others you know it’s a dangerous process. Obviously, you don’t want to waste any time, money, or effort so you want the best leadership information and techniques possible. That should be easy to figure out, right? After all, the number of leadership experts are legion so they should have worked out the best methods years ago.

Except they haven’t. Not even remotely close. The business magazines all tout this month’s latest and greatest approaches and fast results techniques. These “best practices”, if you will, differ from magazine to magazine, from issue to issue, and even article to article in the same issue.

If you’re honest, not only do you not need a world class executive development program, but you know different people are different and what works for one leader doesn’t necessarily create the same results for another. Even top leaders in the same organizations have very different styles and approaches as well as very different strengths and weaknesses. Odds are, you’re not looking for the level of sophistication required to move from mid-level manager to C-level executive. Today, you probably just want to not be terrible.

There’s an old saying: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. If things are going bad, the very first step is to stop doing things to make them worse. Rather than finding the best leadership program ever, most people would be light years ahead to just stop doing the things that cause others to shut down and stop caring. In fact, the one secret to leadership is there is no secret – good and bad leadership is always on display. For most people, the most bang for the buck in becoming a better leader is to simply identify the top five commonalities of their worst leaders and commit to never doing those things (bonus points for doing the opposite).

What are those top five? It’ll differ a bit from person to person, but experience shows there’s quite a bit of overlap. It’s more important that you identify your own top five bad leadership behaviors. The ones you hate the most are the ones you’ll be most motivated to not do.

Eliminate the obviously bad, start small, build as you go, and improve incrementally. It’s pretty common sense, but too often we focus on trying to be great without first eliminating the bad. The first step to being a good leader is to simply stop doing the things that make you a bad leader. It won’t make you the world’s greatest leader, but it’ll get you far ahead of the game.

What would be in your top five to eliminate (or make sure you never do)?

 

[Photo credit: Chris Wimbush [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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