It might be one of the most dreaded parts of our strategic meetings with our leadership team, but it may also be one of the most valuable. Every six months, our CEO (and my mentor) plans a time for the directors of our organization to get off-site and develop our matrix for upcoming projects as well as address team dynamics and long-term strategies.
One of the ways we do this is to take turns identifying things in our fellow team members that we wish they would stop doing and three things we wish they would start (or keep) doing. As you can imagine, it can be uncomfortable to point out perceived weaknesses or shortcomings in others, but ultimately, this is the way real trust is created within our organization. We trust one another because we can be honest with one another. We have learned to share hard things, and in doing so, we have also learned to reflect on the way our habits, behaviors, and attitudes affect those we work with every day.
With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to share a few things that leaders, in general, should stop doing. It’s not a checklist but rather things that we need to be reminded of from time to time. Each one represents a temptation that leaders often face. They may be the leaders of an organization, a church, or their home. Either way, these behaviors may be severely handicapping their ability to lead well.
1. Stop Dwelling in the Past
This is not to say that we ignore past successes or fail to learn from where we have been. However, when we linger too long in the past, we are susceptible to a myriad of dangerous thoughts and behaviors. First and foremost, an unhealthy view of our past keeps us from pursuing a better future. We become complacent because we think what has been is the best that ever will be. We try to get back to that time while the world is changing and leaving our organization behind, but we are still convinced we are fine because at one point we were exactly where we wanted to be.
As a leader, part of our responsibility is to be in front of an advancing organization or movement. This means that we must continue to forecast and analyze the future while learning from our past so we can provide guidance to those who trust and follow us. It is the opposite of complacency. Think about it like this. How safe would you feel if the driver of your bus was in the habit of only looking in the rear view mirror? Unfortunately, that is the way many leaders operate. If that is your tendency, be sure to surround yourself with people who will inspire you into a better future for you and your organization because those who linger too long in the past, will often be left there.
2. Stop Trying to Do It Alone
The problem of isolation is not a surprising one to those who study leadership and organizations. We have all learned or have witnessed how leading alone is a sure-fire way of having no one to follow. This does not, however, protect leaders against the temptation to think they know best and from trying to do it all on their own. It is the intoxication of leadership. As we experience success, we begin to think that it is because of our own intelligence, direction, charisma, etc. If that is the case, then we must make sure our fingerprints are on every aspect of our business, but as fewer and fewer followers have buy-in or ownership, the entire movement or organization suffers.
This is especially true in churches. Many of you may have heard the 10% rule of how 10% of the people in a church perform 90% of the work necessary for the church to function. First, if this is true, imagine how powerful it would be to get more participation by empowering those you lead to be more involved. Second, in some cases, the pastor perpetuates this behavior because he tends to micromanage everything within the church to the point that no one feels the freedom to innovate or lead. As a leader, you can’t do it all, and you most definitely can’t do it alone. Listen and learn from others. Create teams. Collaborate. It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it.
3. Stop Letting Fear Win
Fear is a natural part of leadership. I suppose that makes it a strange thing to say that leaders need to stop being afraid, but it may be more appropriate to say “Stop letting fear win.” Leaders are often tempted to feel threatened by progressive thinkers and new innovations. We fear being left behind, becoming obsolete, or being overthrown (or less dramatically, simply replaced). This attitude is a dangerous handicap. It makes leaders distrusting. It causes leaders to make decisions based on their comfort rather than the needs of the group or organization. It paralyzes us with the fear of the unknown. But as you probably have experienced, it is ALL unknown. We can study and research and plan (all good things), but ultimately, we must act to realize any results.
Overcoming this fear does not mean throwing caution to the wind. It simply means that at some point, a leader is going to have to move beyond fear and into action. Some of the best leaders are able to go from analysis to action quickly to take advantage of market conditions or the needs of followers. Once again, this does not mean faster is always better, but it does mean that if fear is the thing holding us back, it will rarely go away on its own. We have to learn to lead through those uncertainties and not be immobilized by them.
4. Stop Playing the Blame Game
This one is tough. I mean, we all intellectually know that it isn’t always someone else’s fault. At least I think we do. It’s just so easy to blame circumstances that are beyond our control for our current situation. I suppose there are at least two reasons for that temptation: 1) We don’t have to take the blame ourselves, and 2) It washes our hands of the outcome. If we are not in control, we can’t be held responsible. If we are not in control, the regression we are experiencing is simply an inevitable one brought on by external factors. And while this could technically be true, blaming others for our predicament is counterproductive.
Let’s suppose we experience a natural disaster that severely diminishes our ability to function as a group or severely limits our resources or damages our property. Our choices are to sulk and blame or analyze and act. This is not to say there should not be time for grieving or admitting loss. It simply means that we can’t live there. We’ve all known those people who always seem to have an excuse about why things are not getting done or why success isn’t being realized. In the end, that does little to move your family, group, or organization forward.
We all love lists of things we can start doing to realize progress in our lives. Start a diet. Start a business. Start reading more. These lists are a lot more hopeful and exciting, and we’ll have a list of things to start doing in the near future. Sometimes, though, in order to start some new thing or behavior, we have to STOP doing some other things first.
Which of these four behaviors have you experienced or witnessed? Are there others you would add to the list?
We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.
– Eleanor Roosevelt