12 Things NOT To Do As A New Leader

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This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

What NOT to do as a New Leader

Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It is recognition that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and more visibility.


“Continual blaming only disempowers the organization.” -Bruce Rhoades


Whether you are a new executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader; when you are new to the role, people will watch closely to understand your style and how to work with you. Here are just a few of the things people will be evaluating:

  • Are you decisive? How will you make decisions?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Are you approachable?
  • Will you listen? Can you be influenced?
  • Do you take action?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How will you deal with both good and poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How will you gather information?
  • What are your values?


“Many people confuse lengthy discussions with being effective.” –Bruce Rhoades


In two previous posts for new leaders, I described several tips to quickly and effectively establish your style, culture and values:

            How to Get Good Information and Build Relationships

            How to Decide, Empower and Take Action

However, as you begin to take action and set the desired cultural tone for the organization, it is easy to allow some behaviors to undermine your effectiveness as a leader. Here are a few things NOT to do as a new leader:


1. Do not Lead or Manage “around” other Leaders:

When involved in the various skip-level and other informal meetings, be careful not to usurp the authority of other leaders who may be responsible. If necessary, instead of acting at the time, simply make note of the situation, ask a few questions, then work through the appropriate leader to do what is necessary later.


2. Do Not Kill the Messenger:

Using the techniques I outlined in the previous post to get good information will sometimes surface bad news. Be cautious not to “kill the messenger” of the news, but listen and take the appropriate action in the proper forum. Strong, emotional reaction to a messenger of bad news kills open communication.


3. Do Not Be Totally Problem-Focused:

It is easy as a new leader to focus on solving problems. Be sure to balance problem solving with actions to capitalize on new opportunities and future strategies. Looking forward to possibilities allows the organization to solve current problems with a better context.


4. Do Not Start Too Many Large Initiatives at Once:

It is great to make decisions and take action, but be cautious to balance long-term, larger initiatives with the short-term actions. You will be more effective with organizational focus on a few long-term initiatives that are completed rather than on too many initiatives that drag on forever.


5. Do Not Permit Hidden Agendas:

When people have ulterior motives that are for personal gain or to hide negative consequences for actions and proposals, it undermines clear communication and trust in the organization. Always prompt people to explain their motives if you suspect hidden agendas. Asking questions is a good way to get to the actual agenda.


“Upward delegation undermines accountability and empowerment.” –Bruce Rhoades


6. Do Not Tolerate Pocket Vetoes:

A pocket veto is when someone appears to agree but actually does nothing, hoping that the subject will be forgotten. A pocket veto in business is a sign of passive-aggressive behavior. It not only undermines the effectiveness of the organization, but it also undercuts your leadership. Always confront this behavior with follow-up and reprimands. Pocket veto behavior is not like baseball – you do not get three strikes. Taking direct action with someone with this behavior will quickly set the tone for everyone that pocket vetoes are not a good idea.

7.  Do Not Condone Upward Delegation:

When a person or team fails to make a decision for which they are responsible and then solicits the leader to make the decision, it is upward delegation. Upward delegation undermines accountability and empowerment. When it occurs, the leader should NOT make the decision for them, but instead provide additional information or guidance and send them back to do the work. Sometimes working with the person/team to outline three alternatives for solution helps the process.



8. Do Not Place Blame:

Efforts on the part of a leader to place blame only serve to make people fearful and unwilling to accept accountability. Most of the time, everyone knows who is at fault anyway. Continual blaming only disempowers the organization. It is best to make sure the organization or person learns from the mistake. The only exception is when bad behavior is the cause. If a reprimand or individual coaching is in order, do it privately.


9.Do Not Abuse Positional Authority:

As a new leader, it is important to establish a decision-oriented culture, but use positional authority as the “boss” on the org chart as a last resort. Using positional authority is sometimes necessary, but overuse undermines accountability and does not capitalize on the organization’s experience. When it is necessary to use positional authority, fully explain the rationale and why you are using it.


“Strong, emotional reaction to a messenger of bad news kills open communication.” -Bruce Rhoades


10.Do Not Shut Down Opposing Views:  

In order to make quality decisions, it is important to consider all perspectives. Ignoring or closing down opposing views will result in decisions with blind spots, and it will shut down open communication. However, do not allow discussion of opposing view to avoid a decision.


11. Never Assume You are the Smartest Person in the Room:

As a new leader, it is tempting to assume you have the best perspective, especially if you come from a different company. Remember, there is almost always someone who has more experience and insight into almost any situation. By engaging with others — and everyone has their strengths — a new leader can capitalize on the collective wisdom of the group and encourage open communication and foster accountability.


“Looking forward to possibilities allows the organization to solve current problems with a better context.” –Bruce Rhoades


12. Avoid Endless Discussions With No Conclusion:

Many people confuse lengthy discussions that consider every possible alternative and present limitless data with being effective. Always make sure discussions have a conclusion — either a decision or an action.

As a new leader it is important to quickly establish a decision-making and action-oriented culture that encourages open communication and empowers others. As you try some of the new leader techniques outlined in the two previous posts, keep in mind the behaviors that you do NOT want to exhibit — they can easily sabotage the very culture you are trying to establish and erode your effectiveness as a leader.


“Always prompt people to explain their motives if you suspect hidden agendas.” -Bruce Rhoades


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