Mistakes Even Great Leaders Make Inevitably
No matter how long you have held a leadership role, it does not guarantee that you have seen it all, done it all, and won’t make mistakes. There are any number of reasons that even great leaders will inevitably make mistakes. I’ve outlined a few below, with ideas on a preventative approach…how to be aware of these pitfalls before they occur.
Regardless of your leadership skills, circumstances can and will change for you professionally and personally that will alter how you think and respond as a leader. What are those circumstances? Here’s a partial list:
- Family needs change. This could be anything from a marriage to divorce to illness, buying a house, children, your own desire to spend more time with the family, etc.
- New leadership at the organization. Any leadership change that may have a bearing on your role or responsibilities.
- Change in your role or responsibilities. Whether it’s a promotion, new team or whatever modifies your function.
- Downsizing. It goes without saying that downsizing usually means doing more with less.
- Acquisition or merger. Whether it’s another company acquiring you or vice versa, mergers and acquisitions always change the landscape of an organization.
All of these and more will influence your leadership style.
What are those potential mistakes I am referring to?
- Becoming status quo. When there are no big changes or surprises and everything seems to be rocking and rolling along, it’s easy to become complacent and leave everything as status quo. The challenge with this thinking is that it leaves you vulnerable because sooner or later something will change…your competitor takes a lead in market share, your top sales person leaves…anything can happen in a blink of an eye and when you are not looking outward and forward you will have to rush to manage the challenge.
- Controlling. When everything is running smoothly most leaders can be hands off. The controlling micro-manager shows up when things go haywire. Maybe a big project is delayed or a deal you were confident was going to close doesn’t, or turnover happens…you get the picture. Mr. Nice guy turns into a controlling, dominating, do it my way guy. Staff huddles in corners talking about how they feel, productivity is reduced and an air of fear becomes the norm.
- Tunnel vision. Different from controlling or complacent, tunnel vision is you thinking there is only one way to do something or the way it’s been done before is the way to keep doing it or maybe it’s about an employee…you like them so much personally you ignore their performance or ability to grow with the company.
- All-knowing. The all-knowing leadership style says, “I know everything and you don’t.” You shut down others’ ideas or listen but do what anyhow. No one knows more than you, even if it’s just on a single topic.
- Fear of losing. Anyone who is competitive at some point fears losing. When your fear of losing causes your judgement to be questionable you will act in a way you wouldn’t normally, and this has a domino effect.
- Losing your fear. I’ve seen it all too often. Everything is going so well you start to think you are golden and nothing can or will go wrong. Then splat…something significant happens. Egos can get in our way and nothing can hurt us more than success intoxication.
- Having a team of yes-men. Whether intentional or not, when you are surrounded by yes-men, creativity is stifled and new ways of thinking are pushed down, creating the same old same old status quo.
- Thinking if you build it they will come. Every entrepreneur or leader with a great idea wants to believe that you have the next best mouse trap and all you have to do is build it and they will come. It’s more than ego here, perhaps you are disconnected with the marketplace or listening to others in your organization about the viability.
Now that you know the possible land mines and hazards to successful leadership, what do you do about them? Can you avoid these mistakes? Of course not, at least not all the time. You can, however, be aware of them and watch for signs that you are heading down a slippery slope.
First, I encourage you to review the circumstances I listed above as triggers for behavioral changes you are likely to make as a leader. By review, I mean regularly (quarterly is best, but at least twice a year). Being aware of situations will help you prepare and play offense, rather than react when they do occur.
There are certainly situations you cannot predict, but there are often signs that we simply ignore that give us hints. For example: Your top sales person resigns…there were likely signs you missed. Are they requesting more time off than previously? Have their numbers changed? Are they less interactive with you or others? Are they complaining more often? All could be signs of dissatisfaction.
Can you predict downsizing? Not absolutely, but the signs are there. How are sales? Has the company incurred a lot of new, big expenses? Is there a shift in emphasis on product lines or services?
Maybe you are thinking you can’t foresee a change in leadership. Wrong! I’m not suggesting that you can with certainty, but there are indicators you may be missing. Are revenues up or down? How is the leadership connected to the culture? Do they fit or not? Is there a tightening of the belt or a shift from a traditional hierarchical organization to a flatter one?.
Pay attention to what is going on around you, not just in your department or area of responsibility. Even if you are the CEO or owner, there are clues all around us that provide hints of what to expect in the future. More often than not we ignore them or don’t take the time to look for them. That being said, all great leaders make mistakes; it’s inevitable. You don’t have a crystal ball and there are situations you can’t control or predict that have an impact; economy is one such example. Stay alert and in touch with yourself, your company, and those around you. Just that step means you will be playing offense more often than defense.
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