habit, communication & humility

Five Bad Habits of Leaders

John and Adam discuss bad leadership habits and what leaders can do to overcome them. It is through addressing bad habits that leaders can begin to move from good leadership to great leadership.

Subscribe To The Church Leadership Podcast

Apple | Spotify | Overcast


Introduction (00:33)

Adam mentions the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. There general premise is two part. First, what gets someone to a position of leadership is usually technical skill, ability, and hard work. Second, what makes a leader get to a position of great leadership and leave a legacy is a whole different set of things. One of the primary ways that leaders can do this is by eliminating bad habits. Eliminating bad habits is how leaders truly go from good to great. When looking for bad habits, ask yourself what it would look like to ask for feedback. What would it look like to go to co-workers or community and ask for help fixing your bad habits? Remember that this isn’t about looking at other people’s bad habits. It’s about drawing a circle around yourself and working on everything inside. This is intended to help you analyze and fix your own bad habits.

5 Bad Leadership Habits

  • Never Enough (2:20)
  • Withholding Information (6:12)
  • Starting Conversations with No, But, or However (11:02)
  • Claiming Credit that You Don’t Deserve (16:20)
  • Refusing to Express Regret (21:09)

Never Enough (2:20)

For Type-A leaders, there is often drive to always take the next hill. These leaders are always interested in the next win and the next task. You never cross the finish line. This can be a really healthy place to be in as a leader. However, this attitude can also be prone to the bad habit of never pausing to celebrate accomplishments. If someone who you are responsible for leading does an excellent job on something, lesser leaders will only critique performance and then move on to the next thing. This style of leadership can be incredibly demoralizing. Soon, any successes and wins will stop being enough.

John recollects a time when his team had just accomplished an amazing project. Enthusiasm was high and people were celebrating. After celebrating for about ten seconds, he immediately focused his team on what they could do better next time. In retrospect, this was not the right move and did not help uplift the exhausted team members. John wishes he could have that moment back. He notes that this didn’t mean he wasn’t exceptionally proud of the work that had been accomplished. He did however miss an opportunity to share in the celebration with them.

Leaders often fear that if they take their foot off of the accelerator, then progress will stop and people will stop responding. However, often the opposite is actually true.

Withholding Information (6:12)

“Usually information communicates love to people.” - John McGee

We live in an information economy where, a lot of the time, information is a form of power. Sometimes it feels really good and powerful to have a secret or to hold sensitive information over others. As leaders, it is easy to withhold information from others for a variety of reasons. It may be due to a lack of trust or because of selfish reasons. Withholding information can also result in manipulative behavior. You need to ask yourself what you are after. Do you want to be powerful? Or do you want to be an excellent leader of other people? We want everyone to know as much as would be helpful and beneficial for their role. If you want to show someone you love them, share information with them. Ask your teams if they feel loved by hearing about information. If information begins to be misused, or information shared in confidence gets spread, then it can become a discipleship moment. This does not mean you do not use discretion. Information can be a way to grant responsibility to others. Letting people into the “inner circle” can encourage people and communicate love.

Starting Conversations with No, But, or However (11:02)

Starting conversations and statements with negative qualifiers such as “no”, “but”, or “however” can be very discouraging to people. It is hard to talk to people who are always right. It communicates a lack of empathy. This is rarely the intention, but is often a habit in the way we speak. The first response has a lot to do with how often people bring great ideas to you. People will stop taking good ideas to people who always respond with no, but or however. It can help to preface commentary with statements like “That is a really good way to think about this. You may be right. However, can I share another perspective?” After saying this, a “however” is far less demoralizing. Try to recognize that even if you do not agree with an idea right away, that doesn’t mean that idea is wrong. Ask someone to help you to notice and break this habit. This habit also applies for the way we talk with team members.

Claiming Credit that You Don’t Deserve (16:20)

What you get from “sharing wins” is far more worthwhile than taking everything for yourself. Give other people more credit than they deserve. This can endear them to you and increase confidence. If you always have the microphone, it will always be possible to claim credit, but often you will end up loosing in the end. This is something you can always get better at. Refusing to claim all the credit is often an act of humility. Adam notes an example from Jim Collins, where leaders need to know whether to look in the window or in the mirror. When you team have a win, you should look through the window for people on your team to celebrate and encourage. When things go wrong, you should look in the mirror at yourself. We are often tempted to do the opposite. Remember that the higher up you are in leadership, the more your distribution of credit is valued. Make sure to celebrate roles that are behind the scenes.

Refusing to Express Regret (21:09)

We need to be willing to see our part in conflict. Asking forgiveness is incredibly important and conveys humility. It can be tempting to think that if you lower yourself and admit shortcoming that you will lose respect. But this is simply not the case. If you are honest with your mistakes and genuinely seek to make amends, people will want to follow that. It is way easier to express regret and apologize than it is to spin the situation and come up with an angle where you aren’t at fault. This is huge for building trust with your team. Owning mistakes, even if they may not be entirely your fault, is crucial to leading others well.

5 Questions (24:29)

“When a leader gets better, everyone gets better.” - John McGee

Here are five questions that you can take to your team and ask to see how you are doing with this:

  • Do you think I celebrate our accomplishments? Or am I always mashing the accelerator and thinking about what could be next?
  • Do I withhold information?
  • Do I put off an attitude communicating that I am always right or always one-up others?
  • Do you feel like I rob credit that I don’t deserve?
  • Do you feel like I own my mistakes?

Referenced Resources

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

From Good to Great by Jim Collins