Earlier this morning I noticed an article from Inc.com on my Facebook feed: 10 Things Leaders Should Never Do, by Steve Tobak. I won’t go through the entire list, but there were a few of things on his list that I’ve observed throughout the course of my career. Here are my five favorites, you should check out Tobak’s list to see the rest:
Fight Change: Tobak call’s it kowtowing to the status quo, but I’ve seen lots of leaders afraid to try something new because they’re afraid of failure. If it fails, and it’s new, their heads might be on the chopping block. In reality, I think this one should really be called “fear.” Dick Cross, 8x turnaround CEO suggested to me once that the biggest challenge facing most CEOs is fear. He argues much of what the guy at the top does is out of fear. Fear they’ll fail. Fear their weaknesses will be discovered. He says most of them are simply afraid. Leaders who hide behind the status quo are really cowering. Leaders need to cowboy up, face their fears, and embrace potential change that could positively impact the success of their businesses. I’m not suggesting rolling the dice, but hiding behind “we’ve never done that before” is a quick road to irrelevance. “If you’re in the candy bar business and you’ve got a successful brand like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, you’re probably good for a few decades,” writes Tobak. “If not, inertia is your enemy.”
Whine: Most of us have probably experienced the sensation of being thrown under the bus. It isn’t a very pleasant sensation, particularly when it’s your boss that just threw you under. I once worked with a CMO who brazenly took credit for all the good work his people did, but when something didn’t work out, he was quick to whine about how it wasn’t his fault and was the first to throw members of his team under the bus, put on the brakes, and back up for another pass. Fortunately, after an incredibly long 18 months, the CEO started to question whether it really was the team or a crappy leader. Not long after the whiner was sent packing, the CEO took responsibility for putting a boob in charge of the department and apologized to the team. Great leaders share credit and shoulder responsibility. Period.
Lie: Tobak softens the blow a little by saying, “deceive,” but I prefer calling it what it is—lying. Early in my career, I once stretched the truth (it was really a lie) because I didn’t want to face the wrath of an unhappy customer. It didn’t take long before that blew up in my face and I had to face the music. I lost credibility and respect because I lied to save short-term profits at the expense of a long-term relationship. I have never done that sense. “Deceit is a slippery slope, and once you start down that path, sooner or later, it will come back to bite you,” writes Tobak. He is absolutely right. I occasionally have to eat my share of humble pie for something I’ve done (or neglected to do), but never because I lied about it. A lying leader is the worst kind of leader.
Crave Power: I’m always surprised (and it happens so often I can’t explain why I am) when a newly promoted leader becomes power mad. There’s nothing wrong with striving to advance your career or seek for greater achievement, but if it’s about amassing power, you’re headed down the wrong path. Tobak says, “In the business world, if you crave power, it will end badly.” Wielding power is not how you lead a team or an organization. It’s one of his 10, but it fits nicely here. He calls it acting like a dictator and says, “The minute you start behaving like some sort of supreme leader, you can kiss your success goodbye.”
Ignore the Truth: I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed leaders who shoot the messenger who tells them what they need to hear and not what they want to hear. And then turns around and praises the guy or gal who tells them what they want to hear and leads the initiative (or the company) down the path to failure. “Denial” isn’t just a river in Egypt. Leaders who only surround themselves with people who always agree with them or are too afraid to speak up deserve the failure that will inevitably follow them. Our CEO at Lendio has a pretty diverse leadership team who don’t always agree. Collaboration can sometimes be painful, but it’s different perspectives that help a business leader make smart decisions. Dialog is an important part of leadership and making decisions.
“If you ask 10 CEOs, board directors, and VCs about the most preventable causes of failure for executives and business leaders, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. Most will focus on lack of skills, capabilities, or experience,” writes Tobak. “In reality, the answer has nothing to do with abilities or experience. It’s all about behavior.”
I’m convinced he’s right.
Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business best practices, tips and advice accessible by weaving personal experiences, historical references and other anecdotes into relevant discussions about leading people, managing a business and what it takes to be successful. Ty writes about small business financing and other best practices for Lendio, in addition to sharing his passion for small business every week on Forbes.com.