Seven habits of highly ineffective people

Aug 07, 2022

We’ve all heard about the attributes of highly effective people, but what about the habits of highly ineffective people?

We are outside Santa Fe at my brother and sister in-law’s place way out in the middle of a national forest. There isn’t a whole lot to do here other than hike, eat, and talk. We got into a conversation about Franklin Covey Planners last night and how my sister-in-law used to completely rely on them, and that got me thinking about Stephen Covey. Of course, that then led to a discussion of his best seller from long ago, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Over the years, I have written a lot – based on my own observations and Zweig Group research – about the attributes of highly effective people. But what about the seven habits of highly ineffective people? As a lifelong student of human behavior in this industry, I have certainly met and worked with many of them who were principals and managers in AEC firms.

So here it goes. Following is my list of the seven habits of highly ineffective people – particularly those who are owners and managers of AEC firms:

  1. They are endless planners but infrequent doers. If there is one thing that is most important for those who want to be effective at whatever they do it’s that they have to DO. This takes action. Ineffective people get stuck in planning – an endless cycle of “what ifs” – always needing more information to make a decision. Or even worse, they get stuck at the still earlier stage of fantasizing. They fantasize about the possibility of success but don’t take any of the actual steps necessary to achieve it. This keeps the dream alive if you never try. Success belongs to doers, not planners.
  2. They have little to no empathy. Ineffective people are ineffective in part because they cannot put themselves in the other person’s shoes. As a result, they aren’t good at managing people or selling their ideas. And this doesn’t help them win over friends, either, because they often seem harsh and overly judgmental. That leads other people to wonder what these ineffective leaders and managers think about them.
  3. They are control freaks and lack trust. Ineffective people never think anyone else is as smart or capable as they are, so they are very poor delegators. That greatly limits their effectiveness and ability to multiply themselves. Their businesses or organizational units usually can’t grow beyond 20 or 25 people at most because every decision has to flow through them. Being unable to trust and delegate is a major contributor to their ineffectiveness.
  4. They are disorganized. Some people will try to tell you that creative people are inherently disorganized. I disagree. Many of the people I see who can’t get anything done live in a perpetual state of mess and disarray. They are always “too busy” to take the time to get organized. Their subconscious thinking is that it’s best to be continuously in crisis mode and then when they solve the problem (often brought on by their own inaction), they can be a hero. Disorganization is a major habit for ineffective people.
  5. They are in a constant state of distraction. Ineffective people have short attention spans in large part because they are constantly in a state of distraction. Whether it is their phone, email, or social media – or whatever the crisis of the day is – ineffective people lack focus and the power of concentration to get longer term tasks accomplished. They can’t get anything done as a result. The distraction state is a habit and becomes a “way of life” for these ineffective people.
  6. They avoid all risk. Ineffective people see all risk as bad. They will only do things that have been repeatedly tested and approved by others. They think that is the “smart” way to operate. So they aren’t innovative as a result. Their businesses tend to be undifferentiated from their competitors, and usually go up or down with the state of the overall industry.
  7. They let their minds focus on negative stuff versus positive possibilities. Because they are so risk-averse, ineffective people let themselves get into the habit of negative thinking. If you always think about what can go wrong, you aren’t going to do much. Your expectations of others are very low. This is obviously not the best way to manage people or lead a business.

So how do you stack up in terms of these seven habits? Are you letting your bad habits hold you back? If so, develop some new and better habits!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.