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Updated Oct 24, 2023

10 Common Leadership Mistakes You’re Probably Making

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Sammi Caramela, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer

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It isn’t always easy being a leader. You need to manage the different personalities on your team, make difficult choices, and confront issues head on before they grow into major problems. A good leader can spur a team on to greatness, while a bad leader can run it into the ground. 

Although leadership may be stressful at times, it can also be rewarding — but it starts with a commitment to continuous growth and improvement. This guide highlights 10 common mistakes leaders make and offers solutions to improve your leadership skills for the betterment of your team and your business.

Leadership mistakes to avoid

If you want to become a better leader, you need to analyze your leadership style and identify room for improvement. Fortunately, some of the most common leadership mistakes are also some of the easiest to fix with a little bit of effort. Are you making any of the mistakes below? If so, now is the time to start fixing them.

1. Lacking humility

graphic of an angry, yelling businessman

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.

2. Avoiding conflict

One of the most difficult adjustments a new leader has to make is learning how to handle disagreements or conflicts that arise. However, proactive conflict resolution is an important role for any leader, especially in the workplace.

“Managers often veer away from confrontation and try to avoid it at all costs,” said Mark Feldman, founder and CEO of RevenueBase. “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.”

3. Being too friendly

graphic of two colleagues talking on a couch

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

Identify a line between being approachable and respectable, and walk it closely. You should feel amicable with your team and they should be comfortable trusting you, but you should never appear unprofessional or overly casual with them either. Striking this balance can be hard and the optimal blend of friendliness and professionalism may be different for each workplace culture, but it’s important for every leader to find that happy medium.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

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

4. Not offering employee feedback

Another common leadership mistake is avoiding feedback. 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 how 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.

5. Taking on unnecessary work

graphic of clones of the same person performing multiple tasks

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 also 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 Benefits & Insurance Division. “[It] is breeding ground for disengagement.”

According to Mellard, a talented team member who gets into this habit 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.”

TipTip

If you have trouble delegating work to your team, check out these elements of delegation all managers should know for tips on how to let go of the work yourself while trusting and empowering your team to execute deliverables.

6. Not having faith in your abilities

You’ve been assigned to a leadership position because someone else trusts your judgment. If you constantly second-guess yourself, that attitude rubs off on others. 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 of SafeBeyond.

7. Being reactive instead of proactive about automation

graphic of businesswoman standing next to a robot

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 Aptum. “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.

8. Failing to define innovation

Innovation is different for every company and each person in it. As a leader, you need to define what innovation 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 to 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.

9. Lacking vision

graphic of a person surrounded by curved purple arrows

Without vision, a company will have difficulty progressing. As a leader, you’re responsible for setting 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 statement.

10. Saying one thing and doing another

As a business leader, you serve as a role model for your team. Once you define the guidelines and expectations for your workplace, you should follow them yourself. 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 behaves, so lead by example. 

Did You Know?Did you know

Be honest with yourself about the leadership mistakes you may have made in the past. Understand that mistakes aren’t critical failures, but learning opportunities. Practice the leadership skills you struggle with and improve them over time.

Resources for improving leadership skills

If you’re ready to take the next step in your leadership journey and brush up on your skills, check out our following resources that can help you become the best leader you can be.

  • Are You a True Leader or Just a Boss? There’s a big difference between being a leader and being a boss, and one gets a lot more out of teams than the other. Find out how your leadership style stacks up and how you might be able to improve it.
  • 9 Leadership Types and Their Strengths: There are many different leadership types, and each has its own benefits and strengths. Which type of leader are you and how can you maximize your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses?
  • 35 Leadership Quotes to Inspire You: Looking for leadership inspiration? These quotes from great leaders throughout history may be just the spark you’re looking for to bring out your inner leader.
  • Characteristics of a Good Leader: Tips for New Managers: If you’re new to managing, it can be easy to second-guess yourself. The traits of a good leader discussed here can help you identify which tendencies are worth emphasizing when leading a team for the first time.
  • 10 Tips for Leaders to Improve Their Self-Awareness: Being a leader is as much about empathy and awareness as making the right decisions. These tips can help you get in touch with yourself and your team to become a more effective leader.

Leadership is a skill that can be practiced

Leadership is often considered an inherent quality that someone is simply born with, but that isn’t the case. Leadership is a collection of skills that can be studied, practiced and honed. Start with honesty and respect for the team you’re leading, and remain critical about your own shortcomings as a leader. Dedicate time and effort to improving your leadership skills, and you’ll soon see it pay dividends. Good leaders lead by example. Show your team what it takes to continually better yourself and grow in your role, and they will follow in your footsteps.

Jacob Bierer-Nielsen and Skye Schooley contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Sammi Caramela, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Sammi Caramela is a trusted business advisor whose work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others centers around creating digestible but informative guidance on all things small business. Whether she's discussing cash flow management or intellectual property, work trends or employer branding, Caramela provides actionable tips designed for small business owners to take their entrepreneurship to the next level. Caramela, who also lends her expertise to the financial outlet 24/7 Wall St., has business management experience that allows her to provide personal insights on day-to-day operations and the working relationship between managers and independent contractors. Amidst all this, Caramela has found time to publish a young adult novel, develop a poetry collection and contribute short stories to various anthologies.
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