5 Things Leaders (or perhaps even friends) should Never do
In the past few months I have had some time to think about leadership and what it takes to make a leader. In this time I have graduated from seminary, been appointed as a minister by the Wesleyan Church, and attended the Global Leadership Summit. However, when I thought about the things that make up leaders, and specifically good leaders, it occurred to me that many of these things are the same things that make someone a good friend. Therefore, it is my goal here to provide five things that good leaders and probably good friends should never do.
5 Things Leaders Should Never Do
1.) Forget to Listen
At first, this probably seems somewhat obvious. Of course being a good friend and leader requires listening right? Well, for some people this may be easier said than done. If you are a leader then you probably have a lot of ideas. As a matter of fact, you probably have a lot of good ideas. You are used to listening to yourself speak and having others listen to you. However, with a head full of good ideas we sometimes forget to stop for a moment and listen to those around us. Perhaps there is something that we missed or overlooked that our followers have noticed but do not feel like they have the opportunity to let you know. If the leader does not allow their followers opportunities to speak and provide input, they may find that they are losing followers or at least losing useful followers. At least in the world right now, it is better to have real human followers rather than robots.
This is also an issue with friendships. It is easy for someone to capitalize on the relationship if they are allowed to. Perhaps they are a very emotional person. Maybe they do not often have people to talk to. Therefore, when the opportunity presents itself and someone new enters their life they manage to do all the talking. Perhaps for hours into the night they will talk without giving the other person an opportunity to speak or even listen. The receiver feels like a sounding board and is perhaps more hurt than connected with the new potential friend. This may not be the case with the talker. They feel fulfilled, accomplished, and as if they just made a new friend. In reality, they just pushed the person away. The problem with being unable to listen in a friendship is that it becomes one-sided. One person feels that things are going well, where the other does not even want to be around. We need to take an interest in what other people are doing and what is going on in their lives. It is selfish to do all the talking in a conversation. As a matter of fact, it is not even a conversation at that point. At the very least we need to pretend to practice listening to other people even if we do not actually care about what they have to say.
2.) Fail to Accept Criticism
This is somewhat related to the previous point. If a person is unable to listen, then they are definitely not able to receive criticism. A leader who is unable to accept criticism from their followers is going to allow widening gaps to form in their leadership potential. Leaders should embrace and encourage feedback in the areas that they are working it. Obviously there is a difference between positive and negative feedback and it is important to know the difference. The leader cannot take every piece of criticism to heart or else they will obsess over trying to please people. One thing that can happen is that the leader has established a Machiavellian approach to leadership. This is the idea that “it is better to be feared than loved.” This kind of leadership style does not allow for the leader to be corrected by others. No one will feel safe or comfortable being open and honest with the leader. The best leader is one who is not easily offended, yet knows how to deal with various kinds of criticism and accountability in appropriate ways.
In friendships this becomes an issue when one friend is too sensitive or insensitive. Yes, it is an either or. If someone is too sensitive they are letting small things bother them that they should just let roll off their back. However, it is possible that the friend is simply too critical or perhaps enjoys tormenting people a little too much. This comes down to forming genuine friendships that are based on honesty and trust. If this is the foundation of the friendship, then dealing with criticism should not be overly difficult.
3.) Be Late
This is something that has become the norm in American culture. We tell people that we are going to be someplace and then we show up 20 minutes late or more. This should not be acceptable or appropriate behavior anywhere. If we are too busy to meet with someone then we should say that flat-out. It is incredibly disrespectful to waste someone else’s time and a true leader is going to understand what it means to have their own time wasted. If we know that we are going to have to cancel something we should do it as soon as possible rather than waiting until the last-minute. If we are going to be late we need to admit to it and inform the waiting party. All in all, we need to wake up earlier, or get ready faster, or just be more responsible so that we get places on time. Otherwise, we have no right to be upset when someone else is late.
This is identical in a friendship. Although, I must admit that I am not the best at this either. At different times in my life I have been able to get places on time or early, but right now I find myself later to most things than on time. I think that being on time is something that young adults especially need to work on. Very few meetings that I have been a part of in the last few years have actually happened on time. While I am the guilty party sometimes, there are others that are late as well. Whether it is to work, play, or anything else we should make better attempts at being on time to places.
4.) Put things into a Gray Area This is the idea of letting our yes mean yes and our no mean no. I have known some leaders who were not very specific in their requests and then became upset when things were not done the way that they wanted them to be done. Is it really the workers fault? Clarity is something that good leaders should have. This means defining things and making sure that people know what we are talking about. They need to avoid being subjective about things that should be definite. It is much easier to not give firm answers so that the blame can be put on others. The problem comes with using words like “maybe,” or “sometimes” or “perhaps” and then expecting people to figure out what that means. “Sir, should we invest in this company?” “Maybe.” You can see how this could be a problem for the person in charge of making the investments. Either way they could find themselves in trouble. Instead, leaders need to make decisions, see them through, and take responsibility for the outcome – positive or negative.
When I look back at my time in college I can see many times where I was not very clear in my communication with my friends. Giving silly or unclear answers became a trend or something funny to do. At times, it was annoying, but no one would admit to that because it was something that we would always do. In reality what we were doing was either avoiding giving a real answer, stalling for time, or wasting time. If it was something that one of us did not really want to do we would say “maybe.” If we were asked what we did or where we had been we would say “don’t even worry about it.” While many times this was done in good fun, there were times and there are now times in my life where this does not work. Imagine this, I do not come home until 2:00am and my wife rightly says “Uhm, where the heck were you?” and I say “Don’t even worry about it.” Yea… don’t do that.
Not a personal experience.
5.) Abuse their Power
Again, this one should be obvious, and many times it is, but there are subtle ways that this occurs without most people (including the leader) noticing. One way that leaders abuse their power is by belittling their followers. The leader is support to help the followers by making sure that they are doing the best work that they can be. When a leader insults or otherwise harms their followers they are destroying that person’s ability to actually be a good follower. Things like this sever trust. A leader who is not trusted is one who is going to find their days limited. Another way leaders abuse their power is by placing unreasonable demands on their people. This might be requesting that they work too much, denying basic benefits, or setting consequences that are too harsh when expectations are not met. There are plenty of ways that leaders of all types can abuse their power and they are all destructive, distasteful, and all together horrible. If power over people is what the leader was looking for all along, I hope someone recognizes this and removes all power from them. A leader should be someone who enables, not disables, someone who is abusing power can only be the latter.
This also happens in friendships. Friendships are rarely completely equal. Even in an accountability relationship where each person is supposed to be completely vulnerable to the other power levels are not always equal. Therefore, it is always possible for one friend to take advantage of the other. One person in the friendship is likely going to come out as the leader in the friendship. This means that they might be able to inappropriately influence the other person. This could be harmless for the most part with things like always demanding where and when to meet, but it could also become more harmful. Either way, friends need to realize that they have the potential to abuse the friendship or be abused by a friendship. True friends are going to look out for each other and feel comfortable standing up to one another if they feel someone is getting out of line. Again, trust and honesty is the foundation that allows friendships to thrive.
So there you have it. Five things that leaders should never do that directly applies to friendships. I am sure that there are plenty of more things out there, and perhaps I will be able to write about them as well some time. How about you? Are there any things that you can think of that true leaders should never do? What about things that friends should never do? Let me know!