3 Habits to Break Before Becoming a Leader

3 Habits to Break Before Becoming a Leader

by Marlene Chism

Employees often talk about ways they wish their leaders would change, from listening better to acknowledging efforts. The reality is that leadership is never as easy as it looks. Once you become the leader your blind-spots seem to increase.

On the journey to becoming the leader you want to be, there are many difficult lessons, including new habits to develop and old habits to eliminate. Here are three habits to eliminate before you start your leadership journey.

  1. The need to be right
  2. The desire for the spotlight
  3. The urge to fix others

The need to be right

The need to be right at all costs does more damage to your leadership reputation than occasionally admitting you were wrong. The need to be right feeds the ego, but the willingness to be wrong changes a culture.

Here’s why: If you already know all the answers, you shut others out instead of inviting their engagement. You keep all the glory for yourself at the expense of developing enthusiastic teamwork.

When you always have to be right, ask yourself this: What are you protecting and what are you hiding? Most leader’s I have met who have this addiction are completely blind to it. So here’s the checklist of how the need to be right manifests in the workplace and in your relationships.

  • Knowing all the answers
  • Arguing every point
  • Holding grudges
  • Fear of making decisions
  • Telling instead of asking

Time and time again I remind my executive clients, “You do not need to know how to solve all the problems.”

The solution: Stop trying to prove your superiority and instead get curious. Curiosity is the key to getting other ideas, exploring options and gaining the necessary knowledge to course-correct quicker.

The desire for the spotlight

Desire for the spotlight is a paradox. On the one hand, if you like recognition, the desire for the spotlight can be just the motivation to put in the extra initiative. On the other hand, if your desire for the spotlight is addictive, it can keep you from acknowledging and growing others. A telltale sign that you are addicted to the spotlight is jealousy; the green-eyed monster. You feel jealous of one of your rising stars, when instead you should feel proud.

Here are some other ways to know if you are addicted to the spotlight:

  • You take all the credit
  • Poking holes in other people’s ideas
  • Making decisions that only benefit you
  • Withholding information that could help someone else shine
  • Constant worry about someone out-doing you

The solution: Acknowledge others and look for opportunities to share credit. If you find yourself challenged in this area, ask yourself this question: “What is the worst that could happen if I share the spotlight?’ See if there is a self-worth issue at play.

The urge to fix others

A common problem with most sensitive and caring leaders is taking on other people’s emotional issues. That’s why leaders avoid difficult conversations, walk on egg shells, and overcompensate for poor performers.

In “Stop Workplace Drama” I refer to this as rescuing. At the root of rescuing is really the need to rescue oneself. The truth is we human beings are simply uncomfortable with our emotions.

How do you know if you have the urge to fix others?

  • People-pleasing
  • Avoiding difficult conversations
  • Over-extending
  • Allowing poor performance
  • Feeling sorry for others

The solution: Notice when you are being inauthentic, and ineffective. For example, when you say “yes” but need to say “no,” or when you avoid a performance conversation or make an excuse for an employee’s poor performance. Practice letting other people own their emotional issues. Say to yourself, “This belongs to them, not to me.”


Habits are either the best servant or the worst master. When you master your habits, you become an effective leader. Habits that master you become your addictions. Starting early to recognize your addictive patterns can give you a head start on building the framework to increase engagement, empower others and eventually grow new leaders.



Laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can.

~Elsa Maxwell


Published October 3, 2016 in SmartBrief.  Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011) and “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015). 

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