Top three mistakes leaders make
The positive value of making mistakes.
Mistakes indicate you are trying new things. Einstein put it this way, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Furthermore, embracing our mistakes enlightens us. James Joyce explained, “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.”
Most importantly, our mistakes make us. While successes reiterate who we are, mistakes create and recreate us.
Top three mistakes leaders make.
Clinging to the command and control model of leadership is catastrophic when knowledge workers are involved. Knowledge workers frequently know more than the boss. Command and control leaders frustrate and de-motivate. However, setting knowledge workers free leverages their skills, enhances their effectiveness and allows companies to exceed the reach of management.
Losing the big picture in the details slows forward momentum, lowers productivity, creates unnecessary stress, and under-utilizes talented staff. Leaders reach higher and go further when they delegate rather than dive into details.
Neglecting the big Mo results in flat individuals and organizations. Untended organizations naturally cool down and become problem centric structures with negative attitudes. Leaders may forget the power of celebrating small wins to create and nurture momentum.
Today may be a good day for you to better leverage the skills of a knowledge worker, or refocus on the big picture, or fuel organizational momentum.
In your opinion, what are the top mistakes leaders make?
These are 3 of the main mistakes I see many leaders make too. In my experience, two other common ones are:
+ Not allowing themselves to make mistakes – that is, having to be right (and making others wrong); and
+ Not engaging effectively in conflict. A little more on the latter …I find that many leaders do not listen to or accept differeing opinions and do not manage conflict among their staff members.
The most recent post touched on this last point and I find the degree of conflict avoidance among leaders is rampant.
Thank you for adding value.
You’ve added two powerful ideas. Your first one makes me think about the destruction of relationships because we spend our breath proving we are right. It happens on the personal and organizational level.
While proving we’re right our mouth is opened and our ears are closed. Sad!
Best to you,
“Clinging to the command and control model of leadership”. Well pointed out Dan. It reminds me of a leader I once reported to in my previous work, he was a very reluctant boss. Reluctant to delegate, reluctant to listen, reluctant to admit that at times he didn’t know the way out. I think one of the mistakes leaders make is “fail to listen”. Being in a position of authority does not mean that a leader knows all the answers. Rather than de-motivate knowledge workers, a true listening leader will create an environment that allows such workers to shine and create value for the organisation.
Thanks for adding your perspective. I love how you use “reluctance” in your comment. Nicely done!
It seems to me that the further I go as a leader the less I know and the more I need others. Reluctance to delegate, listen, and admit we don’t know, begins the end of our effectiveness.
Since I work in mental health, maybe I will propose a new disorder….
Reluctant Listening Disorder…a disorder that tends to filter pervasively from the top down in organizations as evidenced by stepping on others words, initiatives implemented without getting a baseline and frequent reallocation (and waste) of resources to extinguish the crisis de jour because the original message was not heard.
Thanks for suggesting RLD. I like it. I hope they find a drug for it. 🙂
Here’s an angle on RLD. RLD = not talking with and listening to those directly impacted by changes you are making. This makes people feel like they are being acted upon rather than participants.
Great seeing you,
Doc regularly shares his thoughts and perspectives on Leadership Freak. You can read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/doc
The top three mistakes leaders make are- perception, rigidity and unlearn.
When leaders make perception based on belief, they make the biggest mistake. Leader,s decision based on perception certainly create unfavorable and unrealistic result. Leader should make decision based on people’s opinion, his experience and within available resources. Second mistake a leader makes is insubordination to change in demanding and changing time. Leaders who do not change when time demands, time changes them. Leaders have to be resilient than rigid to sail the leadership journey successfully. Leaders who believe in command and control, crash and those who believe in empathize and involve, win. The third mistake leaders make is to unlearn. When they unlearn their belief, notions, thoughts and feelings, they learn new things. So, unlearning opens door to learn. Not to unlearn also leads to unfriendliness.
However, I think true leaders generally do not make mistakes. In fact, it is the time that make decisions wrong or right. So, in this sense, I also believe that decisions taken have more powerful message than making judgment about right or wrong.
Great seeing you.
I particularly enjoyed the unlearning part of your comment. Couldn’t agree more. I think unlearning is harder than learning. Yet, it’s necessary that we unlearn methods that used to work so we can embrace new ones.
I’m not sure I understand the idea that “leaders generally do not make mistakes.” Are you saying that it’s important to make decisions and that the big mistake is not making them?
Best to you,
Ajay regularly shares his thoughts and perspectives on Leadership Freak. You can read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta
Actually You are right. I wanted to say that decisions are more important than results and also unexpected results are not always the true indicator of wrong decisions. So, it is more important to take decision in time than to wait and fear from failure. I believe that decision not taken in time is the mistake. Decisions are more important than outcomes.
Thanks for clarification. I guess I did get it.
Must disagree with Ajay. Wrong decision process is the problem, and knowing which decision process to apply to the moment is the critical leadership skill. There are times when decide-and-run is right, and there are times when it is wrong. Many major decisions require time, like a seed germinating, and the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. I agree when Ajay adds the qualifier “decision taken in time.” All decisions need a time horizon, which must be honored. Small decisions should have a short time horizon because they’re not worth spending time on; big decisions should take the necessary time because by definition a mistake is costly.
As to decisions being more important than results – strongly disagree. Results define the decision. A decision that leads to poor results may still be a success if important learning comes of it…but then the results are modified by the learning and still define the decision.
Overly decisive leaders – the ones who run around firing off orders just to keep things moving – are often destructive to their organizations. The ones who keep their eye on results and adjust their style to fit the circumstances are the leaders who build highly engaged organizations.
Meanwhile, Dan, not sure if those are the Top 3 Mistakes…but they’re certainly right up there near the top!
Dear M P Friedman,
I appreciate your perspective. You have given me
space to explore more on decision making process. I
can not understand as how wrong decision process is
measured. Decision taken at right time might go wrong
because we do not have control over external environment
and luck. And eventually result may be wrong. Can we
say that decision taken was wrong ? Leaders are expected
to make analysis before taking decision but even after
the best analysis, one can not have control over recession, lay off
or sub prime crisis situation and over and above your
luck. So what make your decision right or wrong? I think
apart from time, it is external environment and luck.
Result defines decision ? A manager/leader can
manipulate balance sheet and profit loss account to
show excellent profit and the other leader might think
it as unethical but in long run, ethical manager succeeds
in getting much hihger result than the one who has
manipulated and shown profit only in short term. In the
particular case, Whose decision is right ?
CEO and Boards of director decide to purchase stock
for the company anticipating it will rise and yield huge
profit and if after purchasing it goes down, Can we say
that decision was wrong? The person who goes to HBS to
pursue his MBA pre recession/lay off and after graduation
if he does not get good job, can we say his decsion was
wrong or not taken at right time? Or can we say that friend
who did not go to HBS and getting better pay in existing
company has taken better decsion not to join? I think
more than decision and time, it is environment and luck.
when all these align, your decision yield expected
result. These are based on my experience and thoughts.
I love to discuss more on the topic, if needed.
You and others have already touched on a couple I see a lot. Avoidance for instance. Lack of delegation is another. I’ve seen leaders crash and burn because they tried to do it all and refused to ask for help.
However, I think on of the biggest ones I’ve seen both in corporate and the volunteer spheres is assumption. Whether a leader doesn’t really read a report and assumes they already know what’s in it and makes decisions based on assumptions. Or a leader assumes that everyone understands or is on the same page, etc.. As a current example, I was recently told by a fellow (volunteer) leader that we’re so in sync and on the same page that we didn’t need a meeting we scheduled. However, on my side of things, I’m still a little perplexed and trying to communicate on some important details that I need.
To a great day,
The NLP folks will tell us that as soon as we make assumptions it’s nearly impossible to change our minds. We don’t even hear arguments that contradict our assumptions.
I’ll add this too… making assumptions about what others are doing/not doing or what their behaviors mean is also a serious challenge.
As always, thanks for stopping in and sharing your insights,
Yes, it is, from all sides of the experience. A major diplomacy issue we had to smooth over last year involved a volunteer coordinator assuming that a charity project had been ignored when it actually was ahead of schedule. In this case, instead of talking to the project leader who had all the details, the coordinator talked to a volunteer who couldn’t answer questions and didn’t seem to know anything. Emails were fired off, confusion erupted, volunteers felt unappreciated, a couple nearly quit. Um, yeah. It wasn’t very fun. Good volunteers are hard to come by, so leadership issues like these can really hurt. never take your volunteers or employees for granted. They are a resource.
I am immediately reminded of the time last year when my 8th grader participated in a “pancake breakfast fundraiser” for her cheer squad. She had never been in the kitchen of a restaurant, never served food, etc. The girls had to do all of the work, and the restaurant manager (props to Applebee’s) did a fantastic job of coordinating these untrained young women in the effort.
Her first words after the fundraiser was over? “I’m definitely going to college because that was hard work.” I say all of that to segue into ….
A leader has to remember the look and feel of being on the line. Of course as the leader they have to go to their desk and plan strategically — they’re not going to be washing the dishes themselves or whipping up the batter or serving the customers (usually) but the moment they come to believe that that kind of work is “beneath them” is when they start losing the ability to lead effectively.
Thanks for a great story and powerful truth.
A big mistake leaders make = Not understanding the job and not appreciating front line workers. Nice call!
Best to you,
Paula regularly shares her thoughts and perspectives on Leadership Freak. You can read her bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta
I love your story. What an excellent illustration!
Dan, my good man…you sir have posted yet another great article! I must admit that I have been guilty of all three mistakes. I think there are many leaders out there that have and will make these mistakes and from them, I only hope they learn from them as I did.
Thanks for the good word. Appreciate it!
If confession is good for the soul then you are on your way .. 🙂
Always a pleasure seeing you,
The big ‘Mo”…definitely makes the case for the ‘rubber band’ learning leader.
Dynamic tension monitoring is an excellent leadership skill.
Relax that rubber band, celebrate the stretch successes and start the stretch again. Maybe add another rubber band for a different stretch. A culture of ongoing learning and adaptation can do that. A leader alone cannot.
Connecting to your #1, the leader actually only holds (clings to?) one part of the rubber band, but thinks s/he holds it all. Maybe short term, definitely not long term. Leaders sometimes do not realize the impact of their stretching on the rest of organization.
PS: Dan, Ajay and M.P. stretched my brain til it snapped! 😉
Not sure, but I think M.P and Ajay were on the same side of the fence perhaps looking in overlapping directions. The underpinning is that leaders need to be decisive with all of the accompanying elements factored in.
I read into their discussion the depth of the decision, time drives the context and level of success (over time– a negative decision might become positive, (oops, let the orange I was going to eat get moldy, hey penicillin!)
Great metaphor. Umm, if I give the other end or the rubber band to someone else, what if they pull it and let go of their end? OUCH!! There’s the rub
Penicillin?? Now thats turning a negative into a positive!
As always, thank you for stopping in…love your style.
Doc regularly shares his thoughts and perspectives on Leadership Freak. You can read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/doc
As my mentor, the late Dr. Russ Ackoff, once told me, “Learn to love your mistakes because mistakes are the only way you will learn.”
Read about Jim at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/jim-leemann
Cheers to your late mentor … and … I hope you find another way to learn 😉
I think when companies grow faster than they had planned, there is a tendency to focus to much on what’s ahead and not focus on what’s now. I think it is great to look ahead and to forecast, but companies will lose clients if they don’t also focus on caring for what they have in the now.
An interesting topic. It’s difficult to generalise which 3 mistakes can be in common. Howwever, based on my experience and observation, I feel that too much of trust on few of the key people at times backfires with either disloyalty or sudden exit; a judgemental decision without relying on market/ business intelligence; and not caring for own old employees and creating a disparity while recruiting new recruits with higher pay packages and benefits. Moreover, one needs to change with the times and adapt to new technology and alter the business approach at a fast pace to remain competitive.
Leaders need to plan succession planning quite carefully and groom the people to have a smooth transition keeping the business values intact.
Dear Mrunal Asher,
I agree to your point and appreciate your experience about trust. There is a dark side of trust. Trust makes you blind most of the time and you tend to overlook many things and take it guaranteed. So, we need to have tempered trust that needs to be checked from time to time.
Dear Ajay Kumar,
Thanks for adding on my views about leadership failures. Trust in no way is harmful and the leaders take good care and time before relying on others. It’s the people who are closest to leaders ditch or take undue advantage and break the set rules protecting the interest of an organization. It happens despite the best treatment and care and the leaders live with such contigencies while marching towards their goal of achieving success.
So much to learn in leadership and you have hit another great topic. I would add an alert to these two mistakes:
Learning vs. criticism. If you create a culture of learning, it fosters both innovation and accountability. If you create a culture of criticism, you foster protectionism, safety, and blaming. Which one do you think will breed long term business health and success?
Failure to actively champion a needed change. If you don’t believe in it, why should the employees? If you find a true resistor, land strong and clear to keep the momentum going.
Love this topic Dan.
Love the contrast you are making between learning and criticism. I wonder if one reason an organization slips into negativity (criticism) is they either reject or refuse to learn.
You’ve given me something to mull over.
Best to you,
Read about Kate at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/kate-nasser
The three vital mistakes you explore are often woven together and present at the same time.There are many outcomes from this triple threat (and not a good one) and one is blind spots for leaders. The three together deplete effectiveness in so many ways. Good that you are reminding us of these three.
You do good work, Dan.
Thanks for leaving your first comment on Leadership Freak. I love the way you weave the three mistakes together into a “triple threat.” Additionally, brining up blindspots introduces another serious mistake. Leaders who don’t find ways to learn about their blindspots are doomed to repeat them.
Best to you,
Just come across your Twitter for the very first time and you’ve got one interesting article here. Relating the second part to the first part of the article – the positive value of making mistakes, I would say that the third one “neglecting the big mo” is something that you can fix and you can learn from it. Exactly taking the positive value of making mistakes.
However, after saying that, the first two (“control model leadership” and “losing the big picture”), I think, are the most difficult ones to change. I guess they are something that some leaders just have in their traits. The company needs to suffer business-wise first, so that these leaders know that they’re failing.
First, thank you for leaving your first comment. I appreciate it.
The message I take from your comment is, sometimes we have to feel the pain before we think about changing. I know thats true in my life.
Have a great week,
My workplace is a dysfunctional one. The staff members from bottom of the food chain are close friends with the bosses higher up. They frequently get training opportunities & hence promotions, leaving the hard working & qualified people disadvantaged. This practice leads to a high turnover of good people.
Thank you for leaving your first comment on Leadership Freak. You introduce another serious mistake leaders make, favoritism. It’s devastating.
I love your first comment, it’s candid and adds value.
One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons starts with the dim-witted boss saying to Dilbert: “What does MFU2 mean on your timeline?”
Dilbert: “That’s Management Foul-up #2. It usually happens around the third week.”
Boss: “We don’t anticipate any management mistakes.”
Dilbert: “That’s MFU1.”