9 MIN READ
By Ken Coleman
Being a good leader is way easier said than done. Sometimes it seems like everyone and their next-door neighbor wants to be a leader, but not everyone has leadership qualities. Fortunately, leading is a skill that can be learned. And the most common way to gain experience is by making big whopping mistakes.
But a less painful way to learn is from other people’s mistakes. So, with that spirit in mind, here are a few of the most common leadership mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. Being Paralyzed by Fear
A small amount of fear is a healthy thing, making you stop and think before making any decisions. There are plenty of things in life we should be afraid of, like great white sharks and middle schoolers with Instagram accounts. But when fear paralyzes you, it’s a huge problem.
The Solution: First, recognize that you’re fearful and your concerns may be well-founded. A decision could cause you to lose money, customers or team members, but you can’t let that possibility drive you.
The best way to kick the fear right where it hurts most is to come up with a system to deal with it. Setting a deadline, gathering facts and options, and working out the worst-case scenario are just a few examples of the steps you can take to get over that fear. And remember, you’ve been promoted to a leadership position for a reason—you have what it takes, and your team needs you, so don’t back down now!
2. Hiring the Wrong People
One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is hiring too quickly just because they really need someone. It does nothing but create more problems down the road, and you’ll probably be going through the same hiring process a few months later when you have to fire that crazy person.
The Solution: Take whatever time is needed to find the perfect person for the job. They should be a hard worker who has integrity and is on board with your company’s mission (not to mention whatever skills are needed for the position), and sometimes it can take a while to find someone like that.
I work at Ramsey Solutions, and every single person who applies is run through the gauntlet before they’re ever hired—including at least four interviews, a personality assessment and a meeting with the applicant’s spouse. The result of doing all that work up front is a company full of happy rock stars and an extremely low turnover rate.
3. Being a Control Freak
I know, I know. This company is your baby, and no one can treat it as well as you—but in order for it to grow, you have to let go. Remember those people you put through that rigorous interview process? You have to trust that they know what they’re doing and have the skills to do a great job. (Otherwise, why did you hire them?)
And I’ve seen this issue firsthand: I worked for a leader a long time ago who was such a controlling dictator that he made the whole environment fearful, stressful and miserable. I loved the work itself, but I didn’t want to go into the office, and I couldn’t even lead my own team well because of my boss. Don’t be that guy!
The Solution: If you trust your team members, step back and let them succeed, no matter how nervous it makes you. Of course, when someone first joins the team, they should be trained and observed until they prove their competency and integrity. But once they’ve proven it, stop micromanaging them, or they will never perform to their full potential—and they may even quit out of frustration.
4. Being Disconnected From Your Team
On the opposite end of the spectrum from control freaks are people I like to call seagull leaders: They fly in, create chaos (aka a hostile work environment), and fly away. In other words, they’re not great at communication, and they have no idea what’s happening with their team. No one knows what they’re really thinking, except for the few times when they give orders or critique something. This is bad because transparency creates trust—your team members need to know you and vice versa in order to build real connection.
The Solution: If possible, have regular one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports to check in on how their work is going and how they’re doing in general. Let that be a time when they can come to you with any concerns, questions, problems or even wins that they’ve been having—and be willing to listen.
On the flip side, let your team know what’s going on in your heart and mind too. You don’t have to hold hands and sing kumbaya if that’s not your style, but you need to communicate with your team about why you’re doing things the way you’re doing them.
5. Lacking Self-Awareness
This one goes hand in hand with being disconnected, because you won’t even know you’re disconnected if you’re not self-aware. But lack of self-awareness creates a ton of other problems as well. People like this have blinders on and don’t have the humility to see when their decisions are hurting the company, their customers aren’t happy, their employees are walking on eggshells, or any other problems they may or may not have caused. They’re just going through the motions and collecting a paycheck without knowing if they’re an effective leader or not.
The Solution: Every leader should have a personal growth plan so they’re constantly moving forward and not getting stuck in the same mediocre routine. It’s important that leaders don’t think they know everything once they’re in their dream job. There are always new skills to learn, books to read, people to help, and problems to solve. So don’t let yourself get stale! The last stage of my clear path to meaningful work is to give yourself away, which means you still have a lot of self-sacrificial work to do.
Additionally, sending out a personal brand survey to your peers—or even your employees—can help you find your leadership blind spots that you haven’t noticed on your own.
6. Neglecting to Cast Vision
If your company doesn’t have a long-term vision, and if your employees aren’t crystal clear on the mission of your company, morale will go out the window pretty quickly. Nobody wants to think they’ll be doing the same thing every single day for the rest of their life. Reverend H.K. Williams said, “If you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail.” So not having a plan for the future is bad news.
The Solution: Take some time to think seriously about the future of the team you’re leading. What do you want to be true in one month? One year? Ten years? Also, make sure you’ve created a mission statement for your team or company (if there’s not one already) and that every single employee knows what it is. Communicate how you’re planning to grow the team as well as the growth opportunities each team member will have down the road. Give them something to believe in and work toward!
7. Avoiding Conflict
Now I love a good debate, but in general, most people hate conflict. And I understand why—it’s not fun to be at odds with your team or feel like the “bad guy.” But hiding from conflict or trying to keep the peace by making everyone happy veers into people-pleasing territory. When a leader shuts down all forms of conflict, including healthy disagreements, things start to get toxic pretty fast.
The Solution: Have those disagreements and let your team members push back on each other. A great leader will encourage healthy conflict by creating a supportive environment where gossip, name-calling, and passive aggression are shut down and people feel free to voice their honest opinions. If necessary, schedule a meeting specifically for you and your team to work through a conflict that everyone has been bottling up for a while. Pushing through the discomfort together will only create more trust and a stronger team.
8. Forgetting to Take Care of Yourself
This is the age-old concept of putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others. One of the biggest make you can make as a leader is letting your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health fall by the wayside. You may be a hard worker and believe that sleep is for the weak, but eventually you’ll wear yourself out, and your team will suffer as a result.
The Solution: Get enough sleep every night, eat healthy foods, exercise, take short breaks throughout the day, and set clear work boundaries so you’re able to unplug and be present with your family or friends when you’re off the clock.
Make time for reflection, prayer, hobbies and anything else that helps rejuvenate you. Hopefully, you offer sick time and paid time off to your employees—make sure you give yourself that same benefit. Don’t try to power through even when you’re feeling exhausted or burned out. It’s not worth it.
9. Failing to have fun
I know fun might seem pretty low on the list of priorities, but if everything is intense and high-pressure all the time, your team isn’t going to enjoy working for you. Plain and simple, your team needs time to kick back and bond.
The Solution: Remember to leave room for some lighthearted team building during the workweek, and find ways to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company every once in a while. This could be as simple as having a group lunch or happy hour (I do this with my team!) or as elaborate as having a fancy awards ceremony every year where you recognize your team for their hard work. Of course, you don’t have to be best friends with your team members or let them call you at 11 p.m., but it doesn’t have to be all work 24/7 either.
The nine mistakes above are just a few of the most common, but there are many, many more you’ll discover on your own. Mistakes are part of being human, and they’re a huge part of leadership. But the good news is, you can always use those mistakes to help you be a better leader. So, get out there, mess up, and learn!