How to stop relying on bad leadership habits

Kristen Hansen


written on December 1, 2017

Perfecting your leadership techniques begins with understanding them.

Habits can be hard to break. If you want to learn how to kick negative leadership practices, you need to first understand the framework of your own leadership. Think of your leadership in terms of substance and style.

Substance is the actions and activities you want your team to undertake, and Style is the manner in which you communicate with your people.

You will likely have a number of habits around both of these aspects; some useful, some less so.


This is about what you want your team to spend their time on. Many of the bad habits leaders have revolve around not respecting the time of those working in their team. The outcome of strong leadership is more productivity from team members, and a progression towards your key strategic goals.

Email usage

Checking your email feels like an easy win, but actually distracts us from the higher priority jobs of the day. Leaders can create a productive culture by giving teams permission not to be ruled by email. Managers can also encourage team members to only send emails with a clear purpose, and not CC the whole office unnecessarily!


Most meetings go on for far too long. People need to have brain breaks every 1.5 hours. Our brain usually does our best thinking in the morning, fully fuelled. Typically, our prefrontal cortex is depleted by the afternoon, and we experience a drop-off in creativity and energy. Interaction with other people sparks us up, so it makes great sense to move meetings to the afternoon.

“Busyness” seems to be a perverse source of pride in today’s business world, which means many people are multi-tasking in an effort to boost productivity. Multi-tasking, in the neuroscience world, is actually called “switching”. This linguistic difference gives us a clue – we’re not actually doing multiple things at once, we’re switching concentration from one to the other.

As a leader, you need to provide an environment that has clear boundaries around time use. Team members should be free to fully focus on one project at a time, and should have a workload that reflects this. They will be far more productive tackling one big challenge after another, than trying to juggle 15 at once.


This is about how you’re communicating with your team, and the manner in which you lead them. Many bad leadership habits are communication-based. strong leadership means team members feel both valued and empowered.

Stress response

A key structure of the limbic system is our amygdala. It’s responsible for our survival by triggering our fight, flight or freeze response. If we need to respond quickly and automatically to a threat, we actually need to deactivate the prefrontal cortex. Unfortunately, turning off our thinking brain while at work is not ideal!

All negative emotions – like frustration, anger, nervousness, worry and impatience – put us into this threat state. Unfortunately, as soon as we get into a threat state, we’re less capable of thinking. Both you, and the people you are leading, need to stay in a reward state in order to do effective work.


When we take away autonomy by micro-managing every piece of someone’s work, we limit their ability to show creativity and to feel motivated. Even something as subtle as suggesting what they should do can create a threat state.

We can give people more choice even when we give instructions. Think about the difference between: “Can you see me sometime before 11am, whenever it suits?” and “I need to see you at 10am today”. Give some choice to ensure people stay in a reward state. When someone asks us for help, instead of telling them what to do, we can ask them what they think. “What outcome would you like to achieve? What thinking have you done so far around this?”

Lack of recognition

Our mission as managers is not only to reduce threat, but also to actively increase reward. Status is important to people, and we communicate recognition of their achievement through feedback. When giving recognition, create a fun environment and offer interesting projects; your team members will spend far more of their working time in a reward state.

You may be naturally more strong in one space than the other. The best leaders will invest time into improving their own substance and style habits, so that their team members work productively and feel valued.

Kristen Hansen is an author, professional facilitator and speaker, and the founder of EnHansen Performance.

Photo by cesarastudillo on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

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