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10 Common Leadership Mistakes You're Probably Making

Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela

Learn what the most common leadership mistakes are and how to fix them.

  • Poor leaders avoid conflict, don't delegate work and don't offer employee feedback.
  • Leaders often make the mistake of lacking humility, vision or faith in their abilities.
  • A leader is a role model and should set an example for how they want their team to behave.
  • This article is for business professionals who want to improve their leadership skills.

Being a leader comes with a host of responsibilities, including handling workplace issues and setting a good example. You're often held to high expectations as the person in charge, and managing an entire team of people can be intimidating.

However, no one is perfect; there is always room to learn and grow, and to help your employees do the same. Here are 10 common mistakes that many leaders struggle with and how to fix them to become a better leader.

1. Lacking humility

Holding a position of power may be good for your ego, but it's important you and your employees know you're not above your shortcomings.

"Leaders must not be afraid to recognize their own failures," said Joe Chiarello, business broker and owner of multiple Murphy Business & Financial Corporation franchises. "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."

When employees recognize that failure is natural, even for leaders, they'll feel more open-minded and confident.

Key takeaway: Leaders need to have humility and learn from their mistakes. 

2. Avoiding conflict

One of the most difficult adjustments a new leader has to make is learning how to handle disagreements or issues. You want to be fair and balanced while avoiding potential conflict, but, sometimes, that's difficult.

"Managers often veer away from confrontation and try to avoid it at all costs," said Mark Feldman, vice president of marketing at Stynt. "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."

Key takeaway: A great leader understands how to fairly address problems on their team.

3. Being too friendly

Many leaders make the mistake of trying to befriend their subordinates to seem likable and approachable. While it is important to have good candor with your staff, everyone in a leadership role needs to understand the importance of setting clear boundaries. Leaders are more likely to get taken advantage of when they cross the line and are too friendly with their employees.

Leaders need to make unbiased, tough decisions sometimes, and that can be difficult if you are overly friendly with your team. Set clear boundaries and enforce them.   

Key takeaway: An effective leader has the emotional intelligence to successfully toe the line between being friendly and assertive.

4. Not offering employee feedback

A common leadership mistake is avoiding feedback, but open communication is a key element to growth, performance and employee retention.

Some leaders take a hands-off approach and only offer employee feedback during scheduled performance reviews. This can be a major problem for your employees and the organization as a whole.

Feldman noted that many issues blamed for incompetence or poor performance are actually a result of misunderstood employee expectations. If an employee is unaware that they are doing something wrong, they won't know to fix it. Conversely, if an employee is doing really well at something and is going unrecognized, they may feel unappreciated or not know their strengths.

"Create an environment that encourages continuous feedback, and be exact with dates and expected outcomes," Feldman said.

Key takeaway: Every leader needs to set clear goals and provide frequent employee feedback.

5. Taking on unnecessary work

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 employees' work because it's not to your liking, or not delegating tasks, not only creates more work for you but hinders your team from reaching 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," said Nancy Mellard, executive vice president and general counsel of CBIZ Women's Advantage. "(It) is breeding ground for disengagement."

According to Mellard, by getting into this habit, a talented team member may bring a project to only 75 percent completion, assuming the leader will finish the rest. As a result, performance moves in the wrong direction while the leader takes on more responsibility for the team's overall project demands.

"As leaders, we must push our teams to go beyond the satisfactory," she added. "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."

Key takeaway: Micromanaging and neglecting to delegate tasks will only hurt your team. 

[Read related article: How to Avoid Becoming a Micromanager]

6. Not having faith in your abilities

You've been assigned to a leadership position because someone else trusts your judgment. Consistently second-guessing yourself rubs off on others, and before you know it, that trust is gone. Don't be afraid to obey your gut instinct.

"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," said Moran Zur, founder and CEO of SafeBeyond.

Key takeaway: A leader must have faith in their abilities to be successful.

7. Being reactive instead of proactive to automation

Adjusting to tech developments is inevitable in the business world. You have no choice but to confront these changes and determine how it will affect your company.

"Many roles face … being replaced by bots utilizing AI and machine learning," said Cindy J. Ford, executive vice president of global strategic accounts and alliances at IT solutions provider Aptum (formerly Cogeco Peer 1). "Identify those roles early, then you can begin to train employees on new skills to help them grow through this transformation."

By being proactive and honest with your team, you will alleviate stress and anxiety caused by these transitions.

Key takeaway: Leaders must be proactive about integrating technology to advance their team.

8. Failing to define innovation

Innovation is different for every company and each person in it. As a leader, you need to define what it looks like to your organization and what obstacles might impede it, said Ford.

"While innovation needs to be fostered, clear expectations will prevent too much deviation from … activities proven to grow the business," she added. "Helping your team stay focused on specific innovation initiatives will allow you test ideas methodically, without spreading innovation efforts so thin they can't be tested or [aren't] effective."

Additionally, it's important to trust your employees with these processes. If you're too involved, you might discourage their creativity.

Key takeaway: A leader must define what innovation looks like for their specific organization.

9. Lacking vision

Without vision, a company will have difficulty progressing. As a leader, it's your responsibility to set expectations and goals for your organization in addition to holding each member accountable for reaching them.

"A lack of vision will result in unfocused projects, improper resources planning, inaccurate metrics for success, and a lack of buy-in from the rest of the organization," said Ford. "Leadership has to champion a vision that will align the entire organization, enabling them to effectively work together toward common goals."

According to Ford, if you want to attract and retain talent, you must create a culture with a clear vision. 

Key takeaway: Every leader must have a clear and defined vision. 

10. Saying one thing and doing another

As a business leader, it is your responsibility to serve as a role model for your team. Once you define the guidelines and expectations for your workplace, it is important you follow them. For example, if you want employees to adhere to your dress code or maintain a positive attitude, you need to display those actions. You set the tone for how your team will behave, so lead by example. 

Key takeaway: Leaders must act as role models and lead by example. 

Additional reporting by Skye Schooley, Shannon Gausepohl and Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: jacoblund / Getty Images
Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't writing for business.com and Business News Daily, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. She is also the content manager for Lightning Media Partners. Check out her short stories in "Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror," which is sold on Amazon.