4 Common Leadership Mistakes

One of the most satisfying elements of our work is being able to watch at very close quarters how different leaders work with their teams. And, we have been fortunate to see many remarkable leaders and their different styles in handling their teams. At the same time, in the course of our interaction with various teams, we do come across leaders who are perhaps still growing into their roles.

From our experience in handling several diverse teams, I would like to point out a few things that you as a leader must watch out for. Avoiding these common leadership mistakes will certainly go to great lengths in firmly establishing yourself as a leader.

1) Leadership is what you DO – not what you SAY
The commonest mistake we have encountered is when what a leader says and what he does is in conflict with each other. I am not referring to large decisions– but rather to the small cues that leaders can unconsciously give out (and not notice), but which followers latch onto.

Let me give an example. One of our team workshops was kicked off by a leader who gave a stirring speech about everyone being an equal part of the team. Soon after that, when the actual team workshop started, he opted out of the many activities for no apparent reason. The unsaid message that went to the team was: “These things are meant for you – not for me as a leader”. In one swift blow, all the good work done by him through his speech was diluted by his actions.

As a leader, everybody watches you for the cues you give out, long after your speech is done & dusted.

2) Focusing on ME rather than WE
A few months back, I happened to read an interview of an industry leader where he was summing up the last one year of his tenure. What struck me in the interview was the number of times the word “I” was used, and in contrast, the few occasions “WE” was used. It was really not a surprise when I heard a few months after that this ‘leader’ was asked to leave.

One of the tenets of experiential learning is that, “The way you play is very often the way you work”. In our workshops we see this reflected, when on many occasions that we assign a task to a group, all eyes turn to the leader; worse still, the leader becomes the sole source of all ideas/actions.

As a leader, your biggest role is perhaps to empower your people to act. To make them heroes.

3) Not keeping an eye on the BIG picture
While conducting experiential workshops – the teams are generally split into smaller groups for ease of managing them while conducting the activities. But the minute we split people into teams, the competitive spirit of “Us versus Them” kicks in and people begin to think in silos. It’s very similar in organizations when people begin to think of themselves as “Marketing” or “Operations” or “Production”. Whose role is it then to remind people that they are part of one big team? That responsibility rests primarily with the leader.

To share a positive example: In one of our workshops, there was again a leader who sat out, but this time with a clear intent. All through the workshop, he moved from team to team – and when he saw the silos in action, in choice colorful language asked the groups himself: “How many teams are here?”. By constantly reminding and asserting the message of collaboration – he ensured the teams delivered a higher level of performance. Also the team was constantly aware of why the whole team building exercise was being undertaken in the first place.

As Stephen Covey said, your role as a leader is to climb the tallest tree and shout, “Water that side!”

4) Being a buddy, not a leader
One of the mistakes we sometimes see leaders make is falling prey to the temptation of wanting to be liked. Everyone wants to be liked – but a leader has the added responsibility of sometimes doing things that are good for the organization, but not necessarily popular with the ranks.

One stark example of this happened in a workshop, where in the midst of the workshop, some of the participants wanted to have beer. The leader was clearly caught between the decision of doing what was right for the organization (asking people to complete the tasks) and what was popular (allowing participants to have a beer). Unfortunately, in that case, he chose the easier path. Not surprisingly, the intensity of the workshop quickly dissipated – and a “learning moment” was lost.

As a leader, you have signed out of the contest to be Mr.Popular. Don’t try to sign in again.

What do you think are the common mistakes leaders make? Do share with us.

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  1. #1 by Alok Verma on February 10, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    The Best thing about the post is that all these are so obvious things to do for a leader. But at the same time how quickly things take a different turn when simple behaviors and actions are ignored.

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