No leader likes admitting they make mistakes, let alone making the mistake – and this is often the best way to learn. By reflecting on what we’ve done, and what made it be a mistake, is the best way to determine what to do differently next time to have a more positive effect.
Biggest Leadership Mistake
The biggest leadership mistake I see the most across my executive and middle management coaching clients is FAILURE TO GIVE FEEDBACK. There is a reluctance to give both positive and ‘negative’ feedback. Yes, leaders don’t even tell their people what they do well.
The reasons leaders fail to provide feedback are numerous: don’t know how; takes too much time; it’s obvious workers should know already; to side-step perceived confrontation; to circumvent demotivating the employee; don’t notice the good things; raises employee’s expectations for a raise or promotion; to avoid the employee being hurt or feeling bad; many of which stem from the leader’s fear (of doing it wrong, making a mistake, someone crying, anger, looking foolish).
1. Learn a model for giving feedback such as the COIN model by Anna Carroll here. This easy 4-step structure can be used for giving both positive and ‘negative’ feedback (of note, positive and developmental feedback should both be constructive). Practice with the positive first, practice at home or when out and about (eg. with wait staff). For more tips check this article out
2. Have a visual reminder to look for what employees do well. Research says financially successful companies give positive feedback 5–6 times for every 1 piece of negative feedback given¹. Few leaders do it this frequently. A reminder might be having a post-it note on your wall to remind you to find the positives.
3. Deal with your own fears. Maybe you can’t be with compliments like one of my clients. Do the self-reflection work to learn how to be with your good qualities so you can help others be with theirs. Maybe you’re afraid of the employee crying or yelling. Do the self-reflection work to be comfortable with emotions. And, if you use a model and practice it often, the chance of any outburst is low. People are usually grateful you value them enough to take the time.
Common Leadership Mistake My Clients Commit
The next mistake I see clients commit is NOT BEING CLEAR ABOUT GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS. Leaders give context, leaders define a vision and what success looks like.
The reasons leaders are unclear are: they assume everyone knows the context and what success looks like; they feel it’s obvious what a ‘good job’ is; they don’t want to demotivate people by micro-managing; they don’t believe they have time; employees should know. Leaders think employees should know what good is except leaders often can’t define it to me when I ask. They don’t spend time thinking about what success for the goal or task is and therefore wouldn’t know what to tell employees if they were asked.
1. Before assigning a task or giving an employee a goal, be clear what ‘good’ or successful completion means. Think beyond deadline and budget. Think about what the employee should be doing in terms of behaviour, what are the parameter s of the project, what’s important about this work relative to the company’s purpose. Share those thoughts with the employee.
2. Take responsibility for the employee understanding the message, not expecting the employee to ask for clarity. Ask “what request have you heard from me?”. “what’s your understanding of the successful conclusion of this work?” “what more can I share to make you confident in fulfilling the expectation I’ve outlined?”
3. Notice your assumptions when defining goals and setting expectations. Put yourself in your employee’s shoes at that moment you are talking to them: they are not in your head nor have they just come from the meeting you attended nor read the email to which you are referring. Don’t assume anything, they probably have their head in a totally different project than the thing on your mind.
A Leadership Mistake to Avoid
In the hundreds of 360° reports I’ve reviewed with managers the majority of direct reports say that their managers do NOT DELEGATE ENOUGH. Yes, the very people that would end up doing the work are asking for it.
Leaders don’t delegate because they think no one will do it as well as them; worried they will overload their staff; they think it’s faster to do it themselves; others won’t do it their way/the right way; worried they’ll lose control or power and nervous they’ll be outdone by your team.
1. Identify what’s stopping you from delegating. Be honest with yourself. Once you know what prevents you from delegating, change your mindset to start delegating. See my article on creating a new behaviour here.
2. Ensure you have the right people in the right positions with the right skills. Make sure you delegate the specific jobs to the appropriate team member – someone with the skills and motivation. When you do their development plans include projects and work that you can delegate to them to grow their abilities. Detail what updates you want on the progress of the work and when you’d want those updates.
3. Tell your team to hold you accountable to delegating the work they should be doing. This includes you not being copied on emails they should be handling for the delegated work. It’s about you letting go and them being empowered.
Client Admitting His Mistake in Leadership
Clients I coach want feedback from their manager and staff to know where to focus. Very often the client already knows their development area. Two recent clients admitted their mistake of NOT MAKING TIME FOR YOUR TEAM. That means making time to do some of the other mistakes listed above (give feedback, set clear expectations, delegate) and also to develop their teams, have conversations about professional growth and career.
The main reason this doesn’t happen is time; prioritizing other things, usually the work which is short term. If you don’t invest in your people they will stagnate, burn out or go elsewhere.
1.Make time to think about each individual. What are their needs and aspirations? Pull out last year’s performance review if you don’t know where to start. Where do you think their talents could take them in the organization?
2. Book time to meet with your people beyond just performance reviews. Plan that time in your schedule before all the other stuff takes up your time. You need to be planning your big priorities ahead other peoples’ priorities for you. If you haven’t done this before then the first conversation is listening to their needs and aspirations to check if your thinking was accurate. Get curious about differences, their beliefs about themselves, what they want.
3. Identify work and profile opportunities that would help them grow into their potential. This could be work you do or meetings you attend (see delegation above). Again, meet with them to discuss, listen for their emotional reaction as well as their thoughts – excitement and nervousness can be too sides of the same coin.
Last Common Leadership and Management Mistake
BEING TOO FRIENDLY. A recent client, Sally, recognized herself in the leadership discussion about needing a balance between being close and being distance with colleagues. Everyone wants an approachable boss, you want people to trust you so they share concerns and issues with you and you have to have some distance from your team when the tough decisions need to be made.
Reasons leaders are too friendly is that as humans we want to be liked; means they are relatable; leaders assume that being liked and friendly will motivate people to do what’s needed. Wouldn’t you rather be respected?
1. Notice if you are better at being close to people or if you are better at being distant with people you lead. If you are too close, practice pulling away, verbally not sharing as much about yourself, asking about others, not hanging around informally too much with your team. If you’re too distant, think of a couple of stories about yourself that make you interesting and relatable, share those. Being close isn’t about disclosing inappropriately.
2. Leadership is contextual, so you need to assess each situation to determine the appropriate level of interaction and disclosure with others. For example, if an individual is often not meeting expectations, prepare a simple message about that and what you expect to be different after the conversation. Keep the discussion work-related, factual, be clear with your message.
3. Think of leaders you respect. They can be people you know, people in the public eye, fictional leaders. What has them be respected? What could you learn from how they lead? Think of the best boss you had and the worst. What can you learn from the best and avoid of the worst? Practice some of these ideas you’ve identified.
Most of the mistakes are about what leaders don’t do so one broad rule of thumb to avoid making mistakes might be to try things, to act, to pro-actively do something different in a given situation. As Mark Twain said, “…you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.”
What leadership mistakes might you want to learn from?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your leadership and address what might be impeding greater success.