In decades of listening to people describe their personal visions of great and not-so-great leaders, a few themes have emerged. Here are a few of the mistakes that even well-intentioned leaders can make. See if you can find room for improvement on any of these.
- Getting seduced by our own need for recognition (aka, hogging the credit and the limelight). People, including leaders, need to feel valued. However, according to Jim Collins the author of “Good to Great”, the most successful leaders are humble enough to reflect the glory of success onto their teams and strong enough to shoulder blame when things go wrong. Take credit, yes. But share credit and give praise often. This will encourage loyalty.
- Assuming people know the goal and purpose of their work. We are not just talking about the financial target. Most people want meaning in their lives. Help them connect the dots between their daily work and some greater purpose of the organisation. Remind them periodically. This will inspire people.
- Being aloof. Leaders must remain objective and fair but people need to connect emotionally and feel that they belong. Besides, artificial hierarchies are less and less appreciated in today’s egalitarian societies. Get to know people on a personal level so you actually DO care about them and can show it. This will encourage a sense of belonging.
- Being too friendly. On the other hand, too friendly is not good either. You and they have a job to do. People must understand they cannot unfairly take advantage of your personal relationship. This will promote professionalism.
- Delegating poorly (or not at all). This topic deserves (and will get) a blog of its own. Possibly several. Delegation is so powerful when done well, and so disastrous when done poorly. In delegating, meet people “where they are at” in terms of their skills and confidence, and take them to where they can really perform. Good delegation will provide growth and engagement.
- Not providing effective feedback. People need to know what they are doing well so they can repeat it, and what they are doing poorly so they can improve it. Don’t avoid tough conversations and don’t assume they know how well they’re doing. They need to hear it from you. This will improve performance.
- Not walking the talk. You, as leader, set the culture of your workplace by your actions, not your words. Walking your talk will fight cynicism.
And, the #1 leadership mistake: not admitting you’ve made a mistake. Let’s face it. Everyone else knows. Turn this one around by, first, recognising that you made a mistake, secondly, by admitting it and, finally, by making it right. When you show integrity you gain trust, and trust is at the core of leadership.