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5 Habits That Are Destroying Your Ability to Lead

Your leadership skills will ultimately determine your professional success or failure.

Larry Alton

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Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a supervisor, or just the director of a team within your organisation, your leadership abilities will ultimately dictate your professional success or failure.

As a successful leader, you can chart a course to an ultimate goal and inspire your team to work hard and achieve that goal, but if you slip up, you could compromise your team’s direction and end up missing the mark.

Related: 5 Visionary CEOs and Their Key Traits That Every Leader Should Master

All too often, bad habits get in the way of effective leadership. We succumb to the effects of our routines, and lose ground as examples for our workforce. These are some of the worst habits that can compromise your ability to lead:

1. Isolating yourself

There are many ways to isolate yourself as a leader, and none of them are good. You can physically isolate yourself by claiming an office far away from your team, mentally isolate yourself by focusing on separate work, or emotionally isolate yourself by not making yourself approachable.

In any case, isolating yourself does two kinds of damage: first, it influences resentment. If you isolate yourself from your workers, they will grow to adopt an “us versus them” mentality that illustrates you as an outsider, rather than being a part of the team, and stifles communication.

Second, it distances you from the work that’s actually being done, which can interfere with your ability to oversee the work or make assessments based on the situation.

Related: Want to Lead Your Staff? Serve Your People

2. Setting firm direction

Setting direction is good; it’s what good leaders do. But setting too firm a direction can damage your credibility and capacity to lead. Too often, leaders get wrapped up in the idea that they are responsible for the outcome of events, and in an effort to seize control, they create strict plans for their teams to execute.

If you set a plan without listening to your team, you could miss out on key insights that might otherwise lead you to better solutions. It could also breed resentment or demotivation in your workers, which could lead to less productivity and fewer new ideas.

Similarly, if you set a plan’s direction too firm, you lose the chance to adapt the plan once you’re in the thick of things. Flexibility is always important in today’s rapidly changing market.

3. Focusing on day-to-day tasks

There are two ways leaders focus too much on day-to-day tasks; the first is personal, and the second is as a supervisor. Personally, if you spend all your time worrying about micro-tasks, you’ll never have the chance to think high-level about the problems and goals you’re facing as a group.

As a result, you’ll never gain the opportunity to reflect, change, or even set the direction for your initiatives. Delegate some of your responsibilities if you are truly overwhelmed.

As a supervisor, focusing too close on the daily activities of your workers is also problematic. It makes you a micromanager, and can irritate or disrupt your employees’ natural workflows. Find people for your team who you can trust to get the job done — then trust them to do it, however they choose.

Related: Are Leaders Born or Made?

4. Making excuses

In a leadership position, you rarely have the chance or inclination to make excuses for small indiscretions, but when you see the end results of your campaign or face a recurring issue you just can’t shake, it’s easy to find ways to rationalise what has happened.

Making excuses is not the same as finding a root cause; tracking down the true source of a problem and eliminating it is what you should strive to do.

Instead, making excuses is a form of lazy problem solving; you attribute the outcome of an event to a (typically) uncontrollable factor, and flippantly remove the need to investigate the matter further.

5. Working too hard

Too many leaders bear the weight of their teams by working long hours, skipping breaks, and staying up long into the night. While it may help you meet a tight deadline or catch you up on work in the short-term, eventually it will destroy your abilities as a leader.

Sleep deprivation alone can wear down your focus, concentration, and even your physical health. Skipping breaks robs you of the opportunity to decompress and relieve stress, and makes you more irritable and less productive. Take time to slow down, and you and your team will be better for it.

Related: Develop These 5 Skills to Become a Tremendous Leader

If you start exhibiting any of these bad habits, work to get rid of them as soon as possible. Course correcting through sheer force of will, you can replace your negative habits with positive ones and regain your aptitude as a leader in your organisation.

Your workers will follow your example, and become more efficient and productive in their own rights, and together, you’ll have an easier time setting and achieving your goals.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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Leading

How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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Leading

The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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