There's no such thing as a "perfect" leader. Whether you've just landed your first leadership role or you've been managing employees for years, there are always lessons to be learned and improvements to be made.
Because leadership is such an important job, you owe it to yourself and your staff to work toward becoming the best leader you can be. This means being wise enough to recognize your weak points, and humble enough to work on correcting them. Here are six common mistakes that leaders at all levels struggle with, and how you can fix them.
Letting emotions into the decision-making process. In your personal life, it's easy to let your feelings about a situation influence the decision you make about it (and sometimes it even makes sense to do so). In business, using emotions as your sole justification for anything is a bad practice; your team needs to see the facts and logic backing up your choices if you want them to trust you. [Is Your Management Style Hurting Your Team?]
"[When you're] making decisions based on emotion ... the team may not truly understand the rationale behind the decision being made, and in many cases, rationale may not exist. This can lead to confusion, uncertainty of future roadmap plans or the validity of the decisions over time, slowly chiseling away at the effectiveness of the leader. Take a deep breath, step back and hold your tongue. Then think." – Christopher Ayala, CEO of Vertisense
Avoiding conflict. One of the most difficult adjustments a new leader has to make is learning how to handle disagreements or problems that arise within the group. You may be afraid that calling someone in your team out for poor behavior or performance will make him or her dislike you, but in the long run, it will hurt your whole staff more if you don't nip an issue in the bud.
"Managers often veer away from confrontation and try to avoid it at all costs. But when performance or personality issues go unaddressed, they fester and set an overall tone that minimizes the urgency of correcting mistakes. If there is [an] issue, it's best to address it right away when the situation is fresh. Managers incorrectly assume that a problem is the result of incompetence or poor performance, when in actuality it's often a result on of a misunderstanding of expectations. Create an environment that encourages continuous feedback and be exact with dates and expected outcomes." – Mark Feldman, vice president of marketing at Seven Step RPO
Picking up the team's slack. Leaders are typically hired or promoted to their positions because they know what needs to be done and how to do it. This may be accompanied by the mentality of, "If you want something done right, do it yourself," which can be a dangerous attitude to have when managing a team. Completing or tweaking your employees' work because it's not to your liking — or similarly, failing to delegate tasks — not only creates more work for you, but also keeps your team from reach its full potential.
"When leaders take on the responsibility of completing a team member's work, they are actually doing the team and themselves a disservice. [It] is breeding ground for disengagement. A talented team member may bring a project to only 75 percent completion, assuming the leader will finish the rest. Team performance continues to move in the wrong direction, while the leader takes on more and more responsibility for the team's overall project demands. As leaders, we must push our teams to go beyond the satisfactory. It's different than delegating — it's challenging your team to take it upon themselves to perform better each time, and working alongside them to facilitate the process." –Nancy Mellard, national leader of CBIZ Women’s Advantage
"Many managers don't delegate. It almost always results in the quashing of creativity, the erosion of confidence, diminished productivity, and stymies professional growth, not to mention the stress and burnout of the leader who doesn't delegate effectively. Empowerment is a tremendous tool — trust your staff's expertise and their ability to do their job. Give them clear direction and parameters [and] be available to them." – Linda Lefebvre, owner of the My Salon Suite Ottawa franchise
Authorizing decisions without a full understanding. As a leader, you will likely find yourself in a position to make choices about things that are outside your area of expertise. For instance, you may need to sign off on marketing strategies or sales decisions, even though your background is in tech. Don't make a final decision without consulting the people in your company who do have experience in these areas.
"While you may not fully understand that particular subject area you need to authorize, you do understand logic. Use this opportunity to understand why this recommendation is being made and what fail-safes your team has built into the process should the result not be what is expected. A thorough cross-examination will confirm that there is a solid foundation for how the proposal was made and that all considerations were carefully explored." – Jay Deakins, founder and CEO of Deacom
Failing to properly recognize your team's efforts. When you're caught up in meetings, conference calls and other day-to-day tasks, you may not always take the time to express your appreciation for your team's hard work. Employees aren't mind readers — if you think they did a good job, make sure you tell them, in a way that will resonate with them.
"Today's employees want to be rewarded and recognized frequently. If they don't feel appreciated, chances are they will search for new employment. Any type of recognition should be executed close to the desired accomplishment or behavior. The level and effort it took to complete a task determines whether recognition should be verbal praise or social recognition accompanied with a tangible reward, which should be held as a higher form of gratitude than verbal acknowledgment. As for delivery, understanding that not everyone is the same seems fundamental, but is often overlooked. Therefore, to properly motivate your employees, it is important to comprehend their likes and dislikes." – Paul Gordon, senior vice president of sales at Rymax Marketing Services
Not listening to yourself. You don't want to be the leader who steamrolls everyone and refuses to take the group's opinions into account. But you also don't want to bend over backward making others happy if their wishes aren't what you believe is best for the business. Your opinion matters, too, so you shouldn't be afraid to obey your gut instinct when it's right.
"While it's important to listen to others, employees and clients alike, sometimes this can be very dangerous to an innovative startup. If you truly believe in what you are doing, it's OK to listen only to yourself sometimes. [Be] loyal to your internal compass." –Moran Zur, CEO of SafeBeyond
Lacking humility. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, leaders should never pretend that they're infallible. Your employees need to know that you're not above admitting your shortcomings, so lead by example and be transparent with your team if you do something wrong or make a bad decision.
"Leaders must not be afraid to recognize their own failures. We all fall down at some point, but what really matters is the way we pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes. This is what helps us grow and makes us stronger." – Joe Chiarello, owner of two Murphy Business & Financial Corporation franchises