Eight Things Leaders Never Do

Great leaders are few and far between. This has nothing to do with genetics. Rather, most people just don’t know how to be leaders. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to learn to be a leader. You can start with these 8 beginner’s errors that can sabotage your efforts as a leader.

  1. Leaders never say it can’t be done. Getting things done, in fact, is one of the most important things leaders must do. They especially never tell a constituent that his idea is impossible. Instead, they talk about how to make it happen. Whatever the obstacles, leaders know there is a way over, under, or around almost every obstacle. And they know that hope and faith are more powerful than cynicism.

  2. Leaders never focus on the past. Instead, they look to the future. Leaders have a vision, and they communicate this vision. They are passionate about their vision. They see the light at the edge of the darkness, and they point it out to everyone, so that everyone will be looking and walking in the same direction: forward.

  3. Leaders never resist change. Instead, they embrace change and turn it to everyone’s advantage. They know that every change represents an opportunity, if we can find that opportunity. And they know that change happens, and that you can’t stop it. So leaders never fight change. Instead, they ask, “How can we make the most of change? How can we work with these changes to demonstrate our own excellence?”

  4. Leaders never belittle or scold their constituents. Leaders need others to support them. And belittling or scolding someone is not a way to get his support. So leaders accentuate the positive. “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,” as Dale Carnegie put it.

  5. Leaders never assign blame. Blaming means taking account of mistakes. But no one person can derail an entire effort. This is fortunate, as everyone makes mistakes. Blame is about finding a scapegoat, not fixing the process. Leaders realize this and instead, they call attention to others’ mistakes indirectly, though they talk about their own mistakes freely and openly. They balance the negative with plenty of positive. And they always look for a long-term solution, relying on the people who do the work and who make the mistakes to fix the process.

  6. Leaders never tell people what to do. People will do whatever they want, anyhow. So leaders do not tell. Instead, they ask what to do. They feel others’ pains and passions, knowing that these are more powerful than all the orders ever given. They encourage others. They give others the credit. Leaders make others feel proud to live up to their reputations. But even if they don’t live up, leaders still let them save face.

  7. Leaders never talk when they could be listening. Leaders always listen twice and talk once. Leaders know that they need the support of others to make a difference. Therefore, they think about others first and how they can better others’ lives. They are genuinely interested in what other people think, and they go out of their way to understand others. And they make powerful connections that last their whole lives.

  8. Leaders never fight. A heated argument may be a great way to vent, but all it accomplishes is to make everyone feel keyed-up. Leaders do challenge people— You can’t look to the future without challenging the status quo. And leaders definitely argue passionately for what they believe in. But they don’t participate in arguments. Leaders know that, in Dale Carnegie’s words, “the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” Instead, leaders begin as friends. They find common agreement early. They know it’s much easier to sell if the prospect is already saying, “Yes.” They know it’s much easier to build positive momentum from agreement than from disagreement. So they show respect for others’ opinions. They always try to see things from the other person’s perspective. And leaders do not tell other people they’re wrong, but leaders do admit readily when they themselves are wrong.

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Nice list. I am not sure that I agree with the last one on the list, as that seems to me to be a way to guarentee group think when you don’t challange your people, but overall, I agree with the sentiment:)

Thanks for writing, John. By “argue,” I mean “fight.” I’m sorry for the ambiguity, and I’ll fix this.


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Reasonable, if a little trite, advice, but I must take issue with point 1; a leader has a responsibility to recognise when something genuinely cannot be done. Anyone who claims “anything can be done” please have an antigravtiy drive and a perpetual motion machine on my desk by tomorrow morning. A true leader knows the capabilities and limitations of their team and defends them to others against unreasonable or unacheivable demands. A leader who claims that anything can be done is setting up their team for a fall.

Paul – There’s a big difference between something that can’t be done, *ever*, and something that can’t be done *yet*. A leader who sees the small steps that lead to the big breakthroughs will get closer to the ultimate goal than one who just sees it as one huge leap at once.

Hi, Paul and Rob. Thanks for writing. I agree that a leader sticks up for his constituents. This topic wants its own post. Briefly, I still think I should not say, “It can’t be done.” For example, if someone came to me with an idea for a perpetual-motion machine, I would look at what needs to happen to do it. Because of the nature of the universe, these things would not happen. Some of them have nothing to do with science. How do you get funding for the project? If a PHB wanted a perpetual-motion machine on his desk the next morning, I also would not say, “It can’t be done.” but I would also refuse to commit to that goal. That’s just professionalism. Because before I can commit to any goal, I need to talk to my team and find out whether we can deliver. That’s leadership.

What do you think? Does that make sense?


9. Leaders always spout cliche phrases.

Ba-dum bum.

Seriously, though, even though these are well known enough to be cliches, they are frequently neglected. Unfortunately, trite means obvious, and obvious means overlooked.


9. Leaders never space out their lists for increased readability.

The beauty of the list is that you call it “Eight Things Leaders Never do”, but, the list also very clearly states (or implies)the “Eight Things Leaders invariably do”. I do like the list.
But, the problem with leadership is that the leaders always tend to polarise the world between their followers and others (non-followers). If they don’t do it – their followers invariably do it! So, we also need to examine – what is wrong with leadership?? You and I know that many problems of the world are – are always – becuase of LEADERS and LEADERSHIP. Leadership literature is not rich in this aspect today.

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