Pick up any leadership book (including mine) and you’ll find lists of things great leaders do. But what about the things they don’t do? What a person chooses not to do is just as important as what they actually do.
Great leaders stand out because they avoid falling into common bad habits. They push themselves to be uncomfortable and improve, and have the self-control to step away from things most other people usually do.
Consider these five things great leaders don’t do:
They don’t ignore criticism
Nobody likes to hear negative things about themselves, but great leaders welcome criticism and consider it an opportunity to grow and improve. Weak leaders often avoid or ignore criticism because it damages their egos. But great leaders are self-aware and don’t take criticism personally. They view feedback as a chance to better serve the people around them and are willing to make changes to improve themselves and their company.
“I’ve seen many people hit a ceiling in their career because they couldn’t get over the number of critics they had and what those critics were saying about them,” Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC, told me. “The reality is that being able to handle this is a skill that is going to become more important. You will never please everybody, but you must always listen to people’s views without unraveling, be able to communicate effectively, course correct as needed, and keep moving forward.”
They don’t let their emotions take control
In the high-stakes business world, it’s easy for emotions to take over. But great leaders don’t make rash decisions or blow up whenever things go wrong. They stay even-keeled and know how to regulate their emotions. That doesn’t mean they’re robots — they experience emotions just like everyone else, but it’s how they respond and channel those strong emotions that matters.
When I interviewed Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, he told me this: “The first layer of skills a good leader must master are internal: managing himself or herself as an individual human being, including emotional balance. A lot of leaders are tempted to ignore or deemphasize this most basic layer, but they do so at their peril.”
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They don’t avoid responsibility for their choices
Being a leader means making decisions that not everyone will agree with. A great leader stands by their actions, even if they make a mistake. They don’t pass the blame to someone else; they succeed and fail with their company. If they offend someone or make a mistake, great leaders don’t shy from the consequences. They own their actions, make amends if necessary, and move forward.
Mark Feldman, CEO of GSN, takes responsibility to lead by example. He told me this: “The question I ask myself every day is ‘Does every person in this organization see that I model in my behavior what I expect of them?’ Put another way: ‘I hope there’s not a person in this organization who thinks there’s anything I would ask them to do or has been affected by anything that I don’t ask of myself or expect of myself.’”
They don’t break commitments
Great leaders stay by their word. If they say they will do something or be somewhere, they follow through. Strong leaders are dependable and don’t let people down. Even if something better comes along, a leader sticks by their word and is trustworthy.
Steve Smith, CEO of Amstead Industries, gave it to me simply: “You can’t fake it. You’ve got to be transparent. You’ve got to be candid. You’ve got to be trustworthy.”
They don’t say never
Great leaders look towards the future and consider the big picture. They realize the world of work is always changing, and what works today may be totally ineffective in a few years. They don’t limit their thinking by saying they will “never” do something or that something will “never” happen. Great leaders think big and are willing to adapt and change to stay relevant and disrupt their industries.
I love what Michael Kasbar, chairman and CEO of World Fuel Services, told me about this: “For leaders of the future, it’s not about picking a single path and sticking to it; it’s about exploring many paths at the same time, seeing around many corners to understand the best way forward.”
What do your actions say about you? What do you choose not to do? Great leaders set the tone by make intentional decisions about what they choose to do and not to do.
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