Every Leader Makes Mistakes
If you’ve been in leadership for more than 10 minutes you know that mistakes are part of the assignment. What’s important is how you handle those mistakes and how you grow from them. It’s precisely how you handle these inevitable mistakes that will determine if you become a respected or resented leader.
One of my favorite Michael Jordan quotes outlines how many times he’s failed and that those failures fueled his success.
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan
Far from hiding their mistakes leaders see their mistakes for what they are: learning opportunities. We all make mistakes, it’s part of the growth curve, but there are some mistakes that we can easily avoid if we are aware of how damaging they are. Making mistakes is forgivable. Making the same avoidable mistakes, not so much.
Our view of what leadership is and how we should lead is defined by our culture and can be skewed by movies, experience, and our own implicit leadership theories. Let me be really clear, you will make leadership mistakes… because you are human.
How you handle mistakes will determine if you become a respected or resented leader.
So let’s look at some of the most frequent leadership mistakes that I’ve run across in my executive coaching and conducting leadership training.
Mistake 1: Being too hands off
Many leaders confuse empowerment with laissez faire leadership. This leads them to be so hands off that they don’t know what’s happening on their team and often can’t intervene before things go sideways. They think that hands off means they are giving their people the room they need to operate. Unfortunately, they become really hands on when things go wrong, which they inevitably do.
Once things go wrong these leaders make a 180-degree turn and become over-involved micromanagers in an effort to restore order avoid blame. They don’t understand the difference between accountability and micromanagement and don’t understand how to empower their team. This engenders resentment from those who would have benefited from clearer instructions or guidance before things went wrong and are now feeling the burden of blame.
More engagement on the front end of an assignment to ensure that expectations, deadlines, and outcomes are clearly understood. Don’t empower too soon and understand what your team needs to be empowered.
Mistake 2: Avoiding difficult situations
Difficult situations are, in a word, difficult. Many people, not just leaders, try to avoid difficult conversations, uncomfortable situations, and potentially troublesome encounters. You ignore negative behavior and chalk it up to that’s just how he is. You make excuses for blown deadlines and end up doing the work yourself.
I was working with a team and one member of the team had determined that they were going to participate on their terms. They flatly refused to do certain things and when I addressed this behavior, the rest of the team leapt to his defense. I was amazed and also understood how bad things must be on this team.
Not only were they avoiding the difficult conversations that needed to be had, they were actively condoning and excusing behavior that was toxic to the team. Rule of thumb, difficult situations only get worse with time.
Deal with difficult situations even though you may not like it. Handling these types of situations is part of being a solid leader.
Mistake 3: Delegating poorly
”Never mind, I’ll just do it myself.” How many times have you heard or said those words? Many leaders find themselves in a spiral that enables mediocrity and stifles team growth. What do I mean? When you do the work your team members should be doing you are robbing them of the opportunity to grow and creating an environment where you get stuck doing everybody’s work.
There are many reasons leaders don’t delegate or delegate poorly:
- Need to prove their value to the team;
- Feel they are surrounded by idiots;
- Don’t understand how high-performing teams function;
- Don’t understand how to delegate; or
- Think delegating is just giving others the work they don’t want to do.
These are just a few of the reasons leaders don’t delegate well. It is absolutely more difficult, and challenging, and time-consuming to show someone how to do something but once they understand it’s something you no longer have to do.
Take the time to think through the tasks you can delegate. Make time to delegate those tasks you can delegate. Be patient with your team as they learn these new skills.
Mistake 4: Being disorganized
If you are disorganized you will struggle as a leader. You will be perceived as incompetent and unprepared. We can agree these are not adjectives you want to be associated with. When you move into a leadership position you are now responsible for your work and the collective work product of your team. The stakes just got higher and your organizational skills will soon be front and center.
Leaders have a lot of plates spinning and often can’t keep all of them spinning with out solid organizational skills. A colleague I once worked with thrived on the organizational aspect of the job. He had color-coded binders and impeccable notes from each meeting.
I was never able to achieve this zen level organizational prowess, but I was able to capture what was important for me to lead effectively and to help others accomplish their tasks. Understand that your level of organization or lack thereof will impact your team and your leadership potential.
Get help. If you aren’t naturally good at organizational tasks either find someone to help, an assistant or team member; take an online course; read a book, go to a conference, or get a coach to help you.
Mistake 5: Misunderstanding leadership
Many leaders, young and old, seasoned and new make mistake the fundamental role of leadership and they think it’s about them. Leadership isn’t about you, it’s about the people you lead. That title means diddly squat and that office is just a loaner. Leadership isn’t about you. Your role as a leader is to help others grow and flourish, create other leaders, and herd cats. When you think leadership is about you your worst behaviors present themselves because your expectations went unmet.
Leadership is humbling, frustrating, patience-building, difficult work that directly benefits your team and only indirectly benefits you. If you think leadership is a red carpet walk or taking ownership of your own personal fiefdom, unless your mom owns the company, your tenure may be short.
Get over yourself. Remember that leading a team is a privilege and the people you lead need your help to accomplish the overall team goals. Leadership is something you do with people not to them.
1. Every leader makes mistakes but it’s how you respond and grow (or not) from those mistakes that determines the type of leader you can become.
It’s your turn, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What leadership mistakes have you made or witnessed and how did you improve?