5 1/2 Embarrassing Mistakes Leaders Make

And how you can avoid them!

Leaders, don't be embarrassed by these mistakesWhether you’ve been a leader for a while, recently promoted to a new leadership role at your current job, or just accepted a position as leader in a new company, take a moment to check to see that you aren’t making these distressing blunders.

Crystal clear precap:

5 ½ Embarrassing Mistakes Leaders Make

  1. Focused solely on work, not connecting
  2. Misunderstanding the “Open Door Policy”
  3. Lack of following through
  4. Giving unclear instructions
  5. Not delegating
    5 ½. Continuing to do old job

1. Focused solely on work, not connecting

It would seem at first glance that the smartest action a leader can take is to concentrate solely on how focused you are about setting and achieving goals.

While focus, setting and achieving goals are clearly essential for your and your team’s success, if work is all you focus on, that’s a crucial blunder.

Take heart, though, even if you’ve been nose to the grindstone, and little to no team building so far, you can incorporate this powerful advice from Mary Shapiro, author of HBR Guide to Leading Teams.

Shapiro urges new leaders to “take time to figure out how to get the team working well.”

When you get to know your team if you’re new to leadership, or you’ve been their leader for a while and you’re strengthening your bond with them, team building will return significantly in job satisfaction and increased employee engagement for all.

Providing the venue and opportunity for the team to thoughtfully form their own group identity can also cut down considerably on future problems stemming from flawed and even dysfunctional team dynamics.

An especially helpful exercise is to bring your team together and have them discuss their best and worst team experiences.

From there, facilitate your team’s process to create their own set of standards and expectations of themselves, each other and you. Be sure that you’re including in this discussion, your expectations of yourself and them.

2. Misunderstanding the “Open Door Policy”

In the years I’ve been speaking and writing about leadership, the “open door” idea has been perhaps the most misunderstood by well-meaning leaders.

So many, even those who have been in leadership for years, believe that the open door means they are always available for employees to come for a chat.

There are two flaws with this way of thinking.

First, as a leader, one of your most important roles is to cultivate leadership qualities in your team. This includes giving them the responsibility and authority they need to solve as many problems as possible on their own without having to come to you for guidance.

When problems do need to be elevated to your assistance, make it clear that you expect them to come to you with at least two possible suggestions for solving the issue.

The second flaw in the open door policy thinking is believing that if your employees want to see you, they will come to you.

Better to practice MBWA, which means management by walking around.

Without hovering, which employees do not like, by the way, make sure you’re out where your people are, whenever possible. Ask them how they are, and be ready to chat for a bit not only about work, but their personal news, if they bring it up.

Ask them what you can do to support them.

3. Not following through

Not following up on previous conversations is an epic blow to your credibility.

The first solution: Be mindful of what you’re asking your people. If you conduct a survey on employee engagement, for example, and ask them 12 questions about what you can do to improve their experience, this could set you up for failure.

Only ask what you have the resources to support.

Finding out what would enhance your team’s experience, while a great idea, needs to be quantified and qualified.

If you care about employee feedback, but have limited time and funds, as so many leaders do, try asking: What’s the #1 thing you’d like us to start/stop/continue or do more of/do less of?

This will help manage their expectations about what you can reasonably do within a short time frame.

Of course, you can continue to ask for feedback and make baby steps towards great progress. Baby steps are always much more appreciated than making promises you cannot keep.

A second common mistake leaders make when it comes to follow through is not getting back with people they have given corrective feedback to.

If an employee is struggling with an issue, let’s say getting into work on time, and you have talked with her about it, it’s vital that you check in to make sure she’s showing clear improvement in this area.

If she is, it’s important that she knows you see and acknowledge her improvement. If she’s not improving, it’s fair to take corrective action to the next level.

4. Giving unclear instructions

As a consultant, I frequently give seminars on leadership where we play games because learning is much more memorable when it’s fun.

The goal in one process is written on the slide in big bold letters, and I say it twice. It’s this: “Your goal is to get a good score.”

Participants have a blast playing, lots of laughing and a good time is had by all.

When they finish, I ask, “Please write down what the goal was.”

In playing this game literally hundreds of times, fewer than 1% have been able to remember the goal. Very few even recall hearing or reading the goal at all.

When I put the slide back on the screen “Your goal is to get a good score” I wait.

Once in a while, someone will say, “What’s a ‘good’ score?”

I say, “No one ever asks.”

Plan A, is that the leader, me in this example of the game, clearly communicates the goal. I make the goal purposefully vague in this game to show leaders how easy it is for the people they lead to work without fully understanding the goal.

Busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive.

Sometimes, we as leaders believe we’re being clear on what we want, but later, find out when the finished product isn’t what we wanted, that we weren’t as clear as we could have been.

One solution is to be transparent with your team. Let them know there will be times when you believe you’ve clearly conveyed the goal, but it misses the mark.

Plan A, is you’re clear. Plan B, let them know, is that they ask whenever they want clarification, or just to make sure they’re picking up what you’re putting down.

Another solution is to say after you’ve presented a goal, which you suspect is more challenging than usual “Ok, that was a lot. I’d like to make sure I was as clear as I’d hoped. Can you give back to me what you understand the objective to be?”

Finally, you can also employ MBWA, and check in with your team to make sure the results they’re getting reflect the intent of your goal.

5. Not delegating

Why do some leaders have such a problem with this?

It takes time to teach someone else how to do it. No one does it better than you anyway, so you might as well do it yourself. (Admit it, you’ve thought of that before.) You don’t want to ask someone to do a task that nobody wants to do because it’s menial, not fun, tedious.

Any of these feel familiar?

What’s the workaround? Let’s take those above listed three common excuses for not delegating.

It takes time to teach someone else how to do it. Yes. It sure does. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re the one that needs to teach it.

There are people on your team who are natural leaders, that don’t necessarily want the job as manager, but who would be happy to teach others how to cross-train or to take on new responsibilities.

The second excuse, No one does it better than you. Again, you might be spot on with that. And again, it doesn’t mean you’re the one who needs to be doing it. That’s because the task you’re not delegating might not have to be done as perfectly as you’d do it.

Few things do need to be perfect, anyway.

Delegate it, and apply your stringently high standards for those very few things that actually must be done flawlessly. Hint, that should be short list, indeed.

The third excuse, you don’t want to delegate a task that you and perhaps others see as tedious, not fun, or menial.

Consider first if that menial task actually needs to be done. Does it? If no. Stop doing it altogether. Don’t do it yourself. Don’t delegate it.

If it does need to be done, then it’s necessary to your team’s and organizations goal accomplishment. And that means, it is valuable and not menial.

Show whoever inherits this task exactly why the task matters, and why you know they will do it well.

5 1/2. Continuing to do your old job

This is a half point because it’s specifically for people who were promoted from within the organization relatively recently. So, it might not apply to you. If it does, consider it a bonus point!

Validation first: It’s completely understandable to want to do something you’re great at. Obviously, you’re great at this and that’s part of why you got promoted in the first place. Congratulations on being recognized, valued and appreciated!

Tough love second: Stop doing your old job. It’s beneath your pay grade and not fair to your organization that you’re being paid more in your new position, yet doing the work of someone who earns less than you now make.

You might see that the person who took over your role isn’t doing it as well as you did when you finished doing that job. You didn’t do it as well when you first started either. Remember? It’s not fair to compare someone else’s beginning to your middle or end.

The person who replaced you will probably do that job differently. Just as you will lead differently from the person you replaced. Embrace the diversity.

Above all, not only does delegating free you up to get to work that you really need to do, your employees appreciate being including and having the opportunity to take on important and valued responsibilities that further your organizations mission.

As you continue on your leadership journey, be sure to check in from time to time to make sure you don’t accidentally slip in to these embarrassing mistakes that are credibility-crushers, but oh, so easy to do.

How about you? What do you think are embarrassing mistakes leaders make?





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