Ask what you can do: a challenge and an opportunity for leaders.

Author:Goldsmith, Marshall

Why is it so hard for successful people to change their behaviors? Simply put, it's because any human, in fact any animal, will tend to repeat behavior that is followed by positive reinforcement. The more successful someone becomes the more positive reinforcement they get, and the more likely they will experience this success delusion.

The higher someone moves up the organizational ladder, the more his or her employees let him know how wonderful he is. Behavior is often followed by positive reinforcement, even when this behavior makes absolutely no sense.

We all want to believe those great things that the world is telling us about ourselves. Our belief in ourselves helps us become successful. It can also make it very hard to change behaviors. Peter Drucker had it right when he said, "Most leaders don't need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop."

Not many individuals like to admit a personal failing and then outline to colleagues, direct reports, peers and family the efforts being made to stop this behavior. There are good reasons for this. Leaders try to maintain a positive tone and commitment to positive action. Recognition and reward systems acknowledge doing something. Leaders get credit for doing good things--rarely for ceasing to do bad things.

However, most leaders, if they are honest with themselves, will relate to at least one of 20 bad habits (listed below). These flaws are rarely flaws of skill, intelligence or personality. They are challenges in interpersonal behavior, often leadership behavior. They are the egregious everyday annoyances that make the workplace toxic. They are transactional flaws performed by one person against others.

Admittedly, the list of 20 is a scary pantheon of bad behaviors. Who would want to work in a culture where colleagues are guilty of these sins? And yet we do exactly that every day. But these failings rarely show up in bunches. Though one person may be guilty of one or two of them, and another person guilty of a different one or two, it's very rare, likely impossible, to find one person who embodies all or even many of them.

There's more good news: These faults are simple to correct. The fix is in the skillset of every person. For example, the cure for not thanking colleagues enough is remembering to say, "Thank you." The cure for not apologizing is learning to say, "I'm sorry. I'll do better in the future." For not listening, it's keeping your mouth closed and your ears open. And so on.

Although this seems simple, it is not easy. We already know what to do--but in the...

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