Leadership Lessons: 8 Critical Mistakes to Avoid as a Leader

Learn your leadership lessons early for greater success later. Awareness of leadership mistakes doesn’t aways prevent managers from making them. Starting well is critical for every new leader; as a young inexperienced manager, in a new assignment – anytime when your actions will directly effect other people. The good news is every manager can learn from their mistakes. Here are some mistakes I’ve made or have seen others make that you should avoid.

1. Choosing your advisers poorly

The wisest man that ever lived made the mistake of choosing poorly and paid the price in the end. He passed this poor quality along to his son, Rehoboam as documented in the bible in First Kings 12. It seems he was a poor choice if we are handing out awards for leadership lessons. Within two generations of Israel’s greatest earthly kingdom solidarity was crushed. Ulysses S Grant made the same mistake once he became President of the United States. (an aside his name was really Hiram Ulysses Grant) Perhaps this is further evidence that he had a habit of choosing poorly. The point is to choose people to advise you carefully. Perhaps they are a little older and wiser or they possess a talent or skill that may be a deficiency of yours. Regardless of the reason make sure you have people around you who will question you yet want your best.

2. Not do what is most important

There are at least two mistakes that occur with managers as it relates to their schedule. They either do what they most enjoy doing or they develop a love affair with living in crisis mode. These two things can drive the manager’s ego when they get credit for fixing problems but will drive their team crazy with insisting on creating emergencies. The net result is there is great reward in the form of increased recognition and self satisfaction from their supervisor. Most managers don’t enjoy working for a boss who is more concerned with personal gain at the cost of living in crisis mode. For more on this google quadrant 2 living.

3. Staying trapped in tradition

Staying trapped in tradition isn’t about age. This is evidenced by managers saying “we’ve always done it that way” and thinking they have the best answer. Collaboration will always bring the best solution. It begins wth involvement, evolves to participation and properly executed progresses to collaboration. Notice that I didn’t say consensus. There is a big difference between consensus and collaboration. Team members want to work in an environment where they are appreciated and engaged yet where there is a strong leader at the helm. As a young manager I used the methods that I saw demonstrated in my managers, which was mostly coercive or Theory X management. This style was challenged by Deming in the 1960s with his Total Quality Management concept. He took his ideas to the Detroit automakers and they rebuked them in favor of tradition. Deming then went to the Japanese automakers and they listened. In America we now see the results of that decision in Detroit with more than one third of all cars on the road being Japanese.

4. Lack of focus

Every one us knows what it is like to lack focus or the ability to concentrate. This can occur because of environmental reasons or medical conditions or any one of many other possibilities. Place this problem in a team environment and you have a recipe for failure. This action beckons the question, what are we trying to achieve? The mission, strategy, values and metrics questions that get to the heart of why some organizations grow and others die. Getting everyone aligned behind the the strategy is equivalent to having a group of like minded people rowing a boat the same direction. Imagine the opposite where energy is directed in multiple directions, core values aren’t shared and with team members with multiple agendas.

5. Failing to recognize opportunities

This is a subset of focus but important enough to point it out as one of the eight points being made here. The title could easily have been watch what your competitors are doing but stay in touch with your goals. So many organizations achieve success in spite of their actions. I would call this luck – being in the right place at the right time. Malcolm Gladwell says there are three things that determine success in an individual; their family of origin or their upbringing, their preparation – the 10,000 hour rule and lastly sheer luck or being in the right place at the right time. Of the three there is one area we can manage – preparation. Prepare your plans. Get your teams aligned and equipped. Stay the path. But never miss an opportunity that will grow your organization.

6. Never standing alone (or not assuming enough risk)

When we were in the process of building the nZone we had a schedule to keep. We had our basketball courts booked way before we were open to business and violating this booking may have had a long lasting negative impact. The problem is we had a leaky roof, which wasn’t scheduled to be complete before this booking started. My closest advisers told me to cancel the booking. In fact, everyone I spoke with told me the same thing. Instead, I thought it best to honor our commitment. It worked out alright along with a few trash cans catching drips and this was more work but in the end was worth it. There are times when you go against the recommendation of your advisers. In my 7 1/2 years in my current role this is the only time I stood alone. Choose carefully.

7. Failing to balance action and harmony

Morale of the team is tantamount to the to the long term health of the team. Patrick Lencioni says that “Health Trumps Everything,” including smarts. Everyone would rather lead people to see the best, however, there are times when the leader must push even though s/he runs the risk of disturbing equilibrium. There are also times when young managers misunderstand that harmony is found in the discussion and acceptance of differences. The manager initiating conflict must check their motivation. I wish someone would have convinced me of this 30 years ago. Today, I am very much at home with confrontation, not because it is enjoyable but rather because I initiate conflict out of love for the long-term health of the success of the subordinate and the organization.

8. Being insensitive to others feelings

One of my fields of interest is emotional intelligence. I once coached a client who was low on flexibility and impulse control but was high in emotional self expression. This person was on their third assignment in twelve months. You know why? You may have already guessed. When the director walks into the room and says we are going to take this ship a different direction and the team has been working for months in the opposite direction my client would blow a gasket. He goes ballistic and says the first thing his emotions tell him to say only later to ask himself, “what was I thinking?” Interestingly, his empathy was high so I coached him to ask a series of questions before ever saying anything out loud. If you want to be a better leader you must be able to get people to do things they may not want to do. As a young manager the task was much more important to me than anyone’s feelings. You won’t have a dedicated group around you if you fail to recognize how people feel and behave appropriately. Emotional intelligent people are usually very successful.

Conclusion: Leadership Lessons

These leadership lessons are among some of the most important that I’ve learned in my 30 plus years of leading others. Becoming an effective leader isn’t something someone gives – it is something you learn so stay humble and teachable. If I can help drop me a message and I’ll do my best to help.

About the author: Creed is an accomplished leader and Professional Certified Coach motivated by a passionate drive to help individuals and organizations reclaim their clarity for personal achievement and organizational effectiveness.

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