Mistakes Leaders Make

None of us are perfect and from time to time we all make some sort of mistake. For new leaders, this path can seem quite daunting but the beauty in making mistakes is that you often learn from them. So, in this post, I would like to go over some of the most common mistakes leaders can make and what we can do to correct them. As I always mention, everything is fixable with a little work and dedication and this is no exclusion.

  1. Lack of trust
    One of the jobs of a leader is to get results through other people. In order to do this, you need to have faith and trust the person that you are delegating the work to. A common thread that is often seen is that people get promoted because they are so good at doing their tasks, so they tend want to hold onto the them as they have the misconception that they are the best ones to do it.

    However, when you take a leadership role, your primary responsibility is to coach and encourage people to grow, which is exactly why you should be trusting that they work will be done in a good fashion.

    A technique that you can use to determine what can be delegated, is to see what things people need from you that only you can provide. The rest of the stuff can then be delegated.

  2. No long term view
    When a leader lacks a long term view on things, you will typically find that they are in a constant mode of fire fighting and continuously doing quick fixes to sort out the problem in the short term. While you may have some short term wins, the commitment to achieve long term success will be lacking.

    A side effect of a leader having no long term view, is that it may cause some members to lose a sense of security as they don't know where the team is headed or if it even has a future. As a leader, you should spend some time looking into the future and to where you want to go, because like I have said before, without a goals you have nothing to aim for!

  3. Inadequate delegation skills
    The fact that topic comes up so often in my blog posts is an indicator of how important this is to get right. In order to lead a team successfully, you need to be able to delegate work in a clear, effective manner.

    I typically see is people saying "Can you do this?" or "Can you do that?", which really leaves out some of the crucial parts of delegation such as being measurable and clearly defining the scope of the work. A common warning sign that you aren't delegating properly is that if you often find yourself taking work back, so you can complete it. I have written a few blog posts on this topic so can further information here

  4. Communicating change to late
    Sometimes as a leader, you want to get all the details in order, of some change that is happening in the team, before you communicate it to them. From my own personal experience, this seems to be a trait of cool blues as they like to be super prepared and want to wait for the perfect moment.

    However, it is just as important to remember that word often spreads quite quickly via the grape vine and when people hear about things via that avenue, they start to lose faith in you as a leader.

  5. Reading peoples minds
    Instead of actually trying to have the "raw conversations" where you ask for feedback as to what you are doing that is or isn't working, or if there are any blind spots that you have, leaders tend to try to mind read what is actually going on.

    As a result, most often the guesses are wrong and you may find yourself going down the wrong rabbit hole. One thing that you will often find is that when you ask for feedback as a leader, people will often be afraid to tell you the truth. In order to correct this, you need to explain to the them that you want to have an open conversation with the intention of trying to make things better for everyone.

  6. Not trusting your gut
    Not all choices in life are black and white, and often as a leader you will find that you need to choose the best between a few bad solutions or from a few good one. In this situations, it is useful to trust your gut and go with it.

    I find this to be very helpful with cool blue personalities as they have a very strong sense of analysis, and if it isn't controlled it can lead to "analysis paralysis". When you are in that paralysis stage, you need to break out of it as the time could be better used to see if the solution that you chose is actually working, and if not to chose a new route. Don't get be wrong, I'm not saying "Don't do any analysis and just base every decision on your gut feel!", but just to be aware when to much analysis starts to hamper you.

    Another side effect of not trusting your gut, is that you may find some people start to become annoyed with you when you constantly tell them "I'll get back to you on that", as sometimes people need you to be the decisive leader and make some decisions based on your gut feel.

  7. Unclear expectations
    A lot of the time you will find that leaders are not very clear as to what their leadership style is and then what they actually expect from you. You need to clarify to you team the following things

    • What you like
    • What you don't like
    • What your expectations are

    This point yet again relates to being able to delegate tasks in a clearly defined manner. One important point to remember is that you should always delegate the task in the manner you will be reviewing it.

    For example, if you will be reviewing a task with a fine comb, then don't give the task in a quick manner. Spend some time in going over it with them, so that they gauge the importance of it. By doing this, they will also be able to better meet your expectations as most people don't want set out to fail.

  8. Failure to adapt to people
    Very often, leadership is very situational but most of the time I see leaders join a team and dictate how things will be done, merely because this is what they are use to doing in the past. There is a misconception can lead to a lot of unhappy people (I know, I have seen this first hand) so as a leader you need to be agile and adapt, after all everybody's needs are different. What you try to do is identify what type of personalities the people in your team are and make changes that can help and assist them.

    For example, if they are are a earth green personality you may want to sit with them over a casual cup of coffee every now and again and discuss how things are going at work and their personal life. For a fiery red, you may want to skip the coffee and just be brief and to the point.

  9. Failure to adapt to change
    The world is continuously changing and as leaders we not only need to adapt to people, but to the ever changing environment. You need to identify what isn't working and what you can do in order to fix the issues. This may take the form of hiring people whose skills you are lacking or just getting the right tools for the job. Some leaders are able to adapt to change, but often they miss the boat and are to late. As I mentioned above, a leader you should have a long term view and try to anticipate what is coming and try ride it out. Essentially, you need to be proactive!

  10. Hiring the wrong people
    A trait amongst leaders is that they often hire people that are similar to them, as opposed to people who can fill the gaps in the skills that they are lacking.

    As a leader, you may find that you feel more comfortable around people whom are similar to you, but this doesn't mean that they are best suited to have in your team. In the long run, diversity makes teams much better as every person has something unique that they can contribute to the team.

  11. Trying to be good at everything
    I have gone over this topic before and my conclusion is that you cannot be good at everything. Often, if you try to be good at everything, you land up being average at everything. Instead, you need to be secure in yourself that you may not be the person with the most knowledge. It is not to say that you weren't like that at some point in your career, but now your job as a leader is to identify the strengths in people and use them in the best possible way.

    There is also nothing wrong with taking advice from other people, not only will this lead to a better solution, but it will give the person a sense of being valued and elevate them to the next level.

  12. No direct feedback
    You will often find that the more senior a person is, the more difficult it may be to provide feedback to them as they tend to be specialists in their area. You may have witnessed the phenomenon that the lower down the chain you give feedback, the more accurate it is, but the higher up it goes, the more we "puff it up" and make it sound "not to bad".

    An important thing to remember is that when you give feedback, try to give specific behaviours and not make judgements as this will only cause the conversation to spiral, as things can then be disputed. A good technique that I find very useful, is to think how do these judgements look through the lens of a camera. It may be that they come into work late or are constantly missing deadlines, but these are concrete examples that make it very difficult to argue against.

    The good news is that there are a few techniques that can assist you in providing more effective feedback, so if you are interested you can read about them here

  13. Not handling political pressure
    In most organizations there is quite a bit of politics, not only between teams but departments as well. If you constantly keep buckling down to the pressure that gets put to you, either from above or other teams, you will soon lose trust amongst your team.

    As a side effect, they might start realizing that when they want to push you to do something, they can just put you under pressure and you will fold.

  14. Inability to spread ideas rapidly
    One thing that happens a lot in numerous organizations, is that no matter if you explain your vision to the people below you, they don't propagate the vision downwards, so it doesn't take effect.

    In order to try spread the ideas, a technique that you can use is to find the people that are in alignment with your vision and champion them. Another thing to try is just getting out of your "ivory tower" and walk about the people and find out how they are doing. In doing this, you will become more approachable and accessible to them.

If you see any of these issues while you are leading, then take a pro-active stance and try to correct them. It will undoubtedly be a slow process, but it will be worth it in the end.

So that wraps up this post, if you have any other ideas of comments just jot them down below.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa