Five things every leader should stop doing

It’s official — the countdown is on! The holidays are here, the end of the year is near, and, as a leader, you are likely in the throes of determining how to make upcoming months a success. No doubt, you’re probably considering what you can do to become a more effective leader. Sometimes creating change isn’t about adopting new habits but dropping certain ones that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

So challenge yourself to let the following “To Stop List” guide your responsibilities, style, and approach for next year. It may surprise you, but abiding by this list is a proven practice for countless Disciplined Leaders. Give it a try to build a greater focus around what matters most. 

The Leadership “To Stop” List

  1. Stop focusing on the “Trivial Many.” Disciplined leaders make it a habit to ignore or delegate their “Trivial Many” activities and, instead, focus on the “Vital Few.” How can you determine your Vital Few? Use the Pareto Principle, or the “80/20 Rule,” as a guide for choosing the 20 percent — the most vital activities that will drive 80 percent of your results and success. Apply this model to everything you do, including planning, goal-setting, strategizing, decision-making, etc.
  1. Stop overusing the “I” word. Your duty as a leader is to share recognition and put the spotlight more on the team and less on yourself. Start loading up your language with “we” versus “I” (again, 80/20) and you’ll create a more inclusive, empowered culture that shares in accountability and feels more personally motivated to work toward and achieve your company’s goals.
  1. Stop trying to be right all the time. Realize that you don’t always have to be right to demonstrate your competence. In fact, if you’re obsessed with trying to be right and winning every argument, you will reflect a questionable, less confident leadership style. Admitting you don’t have all the answers takes greater guts. What’s more, self-assured, strong leaders will happily change their position if they recognize another person has brought something better to the table. They feel liberated from thinking they must always have the perfect answer to every problem and can better focus on their vital leadership tasks. 
  1. Stop playing favorites. You’re going to like certain people more than others. It’s human nature. But in leadership, don’t give preferential treatment to an employee just because you really click with that person. Nothing will get your team’s attention faster and erode morale quicker than playing favorites. This game of preferential treatment can build barriers and hostilities, create a “mini-culture” of exclusivity among your people, and most certainly damage your leadership credibility. Avoid this leadership sin at all costs by consistently treating everyone fairly, always striving to sustain a reputation for being a leader who doesn’t play favorites. 
  1. Stop being the answer guru. It’s not your job to provide most of the solutions for your people. In fact, you’ll make more progress toward goals if you turn over problem solving to employees. When they come to you with questions or issues, demand that they come up with a few solutions first. This may feel counterintuitive or uncomfortable but go with it. This is a proven strategy for effective problem-solving, one that, again, will allow you to better focus on your vital job: leading.

Final note: If you’ve just read these five points and think it’s going to require some grit, know you’re not alone. It’s often tough to break old patterns and commit to different strategies. But here’s some good news: Lots of leaders have found that the “To Stop List” works. The key, however, is discipline. To really get the results you want, only you can discipline yourself to adopt these habits and create the impact you want and need.

John Manning is the president of Management Action Programs Inc. , a general management consulting firm that’s helped 170,000 leaders and 15,000 organizations nationwide create breakthrough results. Manning is author of the newly released book, “The Disciplined Leader.”