20 Habits to Stop Doing
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“We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”
– Management expert Peter Drucker

Almost everyone keeps a “to-do” list. We often begin the New Year with resolutions to start new regimes to make us healthier, wealthier, and, hopefully, wiser.

What’s needed is a “to-stop” list of bad habits, when it comes to communicating and interacting with our peers, colleagues, direct reports and even family members.

The following list of bad habits is from Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. These bad habits can easily be turned into good ones. Which habits are you engaging in, and which would be hardest for you to stop?

Habits That Hold You Back

The most common bad leadership habits aren’t personality flaws. They’re challenges in interpersonal behavior – the egregious annoyances that make the workplace substantially more noxious than necessary. These faults do not occur in isolation; they involve one person interacting with another.

  1. Winning too much. The need to win at all costs and in all situations – when it matters and even when it doesn’t, when it’s totally beside the point.
  2. Adding too much value. The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
  3. Passing judgment. The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
  4. Making destructive comments. The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
  5. Starting with “no,” “but” or “however.” The overuse of these negative qualifiers, which secretly convey to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
  6. Telling the world how smart we are. The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
  7. Speaking when angry. Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
  8. Negativity (“Let me explain why that won’t work.”). The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we haven’t been asked to do so.
  9. Withholding information. The refusal to share information so we can maintain an advantage over others.
  10. Failing to give proper recognition. The inability to praise and reward.
  11. Claiming credit we do not deserve. The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
  12. Making excuses. The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people will excuse us for it.
  13. Clinging to the past. The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
  14. Playing favorites. Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
  15. Refusing to express regret. The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong or recognize how our actions affect others.
  16. Not listening. The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for our colleagues.
  17. Failing to express gratitude. The most basic form of bad manners.
  18. Punishing the messenger. The misguided need to attack the innocent who, usually, are only trying to help us.
  19. Passing the buck. The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
  20. An excessive need to be “me.” Exalting our faults as virtues, simply because they embody who we are.

It’s easy to see why these habits are common among leaders. People who are successful are often driven to win. High achievers are often intelligent, competitive, and passionate about acquiring information.

Information Compulsion

Study these 20 bad habits, and you’ll see that half are rooted in information compulsion. Most of us have an overwhelming need to tell others something they don’t know, even when it’s not in their best interest. When we add value, pass judgment, announce that we “already knew that” or explain “why that won’t work,” we are compulsively sharing information. Likewise, when we fail to give recognition, claim credit we don’t deserve, refuse to apologize or neglect to express our gratitude, we are withholding information. Sharing and withholding information are two sides of the same coin.

How to Break a Bad Habit

Luckily, these bad habits are easy to break. The cure for failing to express gratitude is remembering to say “thank you.” For not apologizing, it’s learning to say, “I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time.” For punishing the messenger, it’s imagining how you would want to be treated under similar circumstances. For not listening, it’s keeping your mouth shut and your ears open.

How to Change

If you recognize yourself on the list of 20 bad habits, you can do something about it. Fortunately, it’s easier to stop doing something than to undergo a major personality transformation. It can be difficult, however, to let go of firmly ingrained behaviors. One way to facilitate on-the-job change is to ask for help from a select group of peers. Tell your colleagues about one of these habits you’d like to improve. Ask for their help. Ask for feedback. Listen to their input, and thank them for helping you improve. You’ll be amazed at what can happen.

Action Steps

  1. Make a list of your top 3-5 bad habits
  2. Ask a trusted peer if they recognize you doing these things
  3. Listen to them and revise the list if needed
  4. Apologize and ask for suggestions
  5. Thank them for their honesty and interest in helping you improve
  6. Tell them you’re going to do better
  7. Later, as you make progress, ask for feedback again

As your coach, I can help you look at yourself in a way that can’t be done on your own.

You deserve more in your life, and you can start going for it today! I have a few spots available for February coaching.

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Moty Koppes is a certified master coach providing you with personal development, life coaching, relationship coaching, communication skills, personal power, life balance, career coaching, productivity enhancement, executive coaching and stress reduction in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California.