The 10 leadership mistakes you never want to make

10 leadership mistakes to avoid

“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” John C. Maxwell

“I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.” Jack Welch

Many leaders, for a variety of reasons, are blind to some of the faults in their leadership. Maybe they weren’t trained, maybe their mentor demonstrated the same faults, and maybe the organisation even rewards the behaviour. The problem with not addressing these leadership mistakes is that you are handicapping the productivity of your team, your own development and ultimately your career trajectory.

Below are 10 of the most common leadership mistakes you might find yourself a bit “blind” to. Shedding some light on them will hopefully ensure that you can start addressing them.

Not understanding your role
One of the first places leaders fail is … well … not being a leader. You are most effective when you work THROUGH your people and enhance each team member’s performance, not when you roll up your sleeves and make an individual contribution. Focus on getting the most out of your team, not getting the most out of yourself.

Not listening to your employees
Your team should be your primary source of feedback on what is working and what isn’t in the operation, with the customer, and with their own performance. Many leaders focus more on getting their point across to their team instead of trying to gain a better understanding of the issue through their team. If you aren’t listening twice as much as you are talking you are missing out on essential information and ideas, and without the right information and ideas, you can’t lead.

Not setting goals
You’re the captain of your ship, but if you don’t have a destination for your vessel you can’t ensure you get to where you want to be. Goal setting on an organisational, staff and personal level creates the map for all of your achievements and helps focus your efforts on what is important. With all of distractions and competing priorities a leader is beset with, a goal helps you decide what is important and what isn’t.

Resisting change
Change is one of the most difficult things for a leader to manage because it takes time, effort, patience, perseverance, planning and a tolerance for risk. The point is, you’re a leader, and leaders are supposed to make things better. If you were meant to just maintain the status quo, you’d be called a “steward” or a “caretaker”. It may be difficult to come up with the idea and plan, convince your boss and team, put it into place, and then have some of your changes fail to get results. But that’s what you are there for and great leaders are measured by the improvements they make, not by what they keep in place.

Lack of accountability
Building trust is essential for developing high performing teams. One of the cornerstones of trust is accountability. That goes for your team members and it goes for you. If someone in your area is assigned a task and says they are going to do something, it is imperative that every effort is put into seeing it to satisfactory completion. Ensuring that expectation by your team is something that leaders should regularly be monitoring. With that said, too many leaders hold their team accountable, but give themselves a pass. You need to set the example and hold yourself to the highest standard possible, doing so actually makes it easier to hold everyone else accountable.

Failing to praise
Leaders are problem solvers who are always on the hunt for the next problem they can fix. This focus on the bad can leave you in a place where you don’t recognise the good as easily. Praise and recognition are almost always at the top of any survey of what employees want to see from their leaders and what motivates them to do a better job. It is as simple as saying “thank you” and “good job” when things are completed, and goes a long way towards creating a positive culture.

The development of your team is one of your most important duties as a leader, and that can’t happen when you are over their shoulder telling them every little step they need to take. To unlock your team’s potential, you need to empower them to take responsibility, risks and to make mistakes. Your role is to provide the structure and safety net to ensure learning is taking place and the tasks are being completed satisfactory.

Hiring poorly
Who you bring into your team will have a huge effect on what your team can accomplish. Most leaders understand this, but almost no leader has the extra time in their schedule to do hiring right, which leads to the whole process being rushed and you “settling” for a candidate that “will do OK.” You don’t want “OK”, your team doesn’t want to work alongside “OK”, and “OK” hires often are far more trouble than they are worth. If you want to hold your team to high standards, make sure you are adding exceptional people to your team that can meet and exceed those standards. Doing less is just making everyone work harder.

Not making work fun
Hey, the workplace doesn’t need to be a playground or a comedy club, but leaders needs to make it fun. People spend most of their waking lives at work and to get the best effort out of them it needs to be enjoyable. Study after study shows the positive effects on productivity in the workplace when employees enjoy coming to work. It unlocks creativity, provides more energy and fosters collaboration. Dress down days, Christmas parties, dress-up days, pot-lucks, etc, etc are all things that good workplaces do to bring this out. If you don’t have any ideas, you can always “Google” it.

Not forgiving yourself when you make a mistake
Leaders are human, and they are rarely given a roadmap for success as a leader. For that reason, you are often required to learn from your mistakes. Your path to success will likely be littered with failures. It’s what you do with these failures, how you pick yourself back up again and learn from them, that will shape the rest of your career. Every great leader has made every one of the above mistakes, the key is that they learned their lesson.

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  • Ian Jefferis

    Rarely a truer word than this article. I can think of past leaders who would have done well to read this – seriously – and learn from it. Hopefully I have learnt ‘how not to…’ from them and can now tick most of these. I can still see one or two areas deserving of a cross though!


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