Being a leader comes with a host of responsibilities, including being a good influence on those you work with and who work for you. Whether you've recently 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 a leadership role is important, you owe it to yourself and your staff to always be sharp. This means being wise enough to recognize your weak points, and humble enough to work on correcting them.
Here are five common mistakes that leaders at all levels struggle with, and how you can fix them.
Holding any position of power can be good for your ego, but don’t let that position of power create a false sense of security. It's important that your employees know you're not above your shortcomings.
"Leaders must not be afraid to recognize their own failures," said Joe Chiarello, owner of two 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."
Leading by example and having transparency with your team if you do something wrong or make a bad decision can go a long way.
It's easy to let your feelings about a situation influence the choice, and sometimes it makes sense to do so. But in business, using emotions as your sole justification for any choice is a bad practice. Your team needs to see the facts and logic backing up your choices if you want them to trust you.
"(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," said Christopher Ayala, partner at manufacturing company Gardner & Co. "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."
When it comes to making a decision, he suggests taking a deep breath, stepping back and holding your tongue, then thinking.
Making emotional moves can lead to authorizing decisions without a full understanding, too. You don't want to make decisions because you feel you have to. As a leader, you may find yourself in a position to make choices about things outside your area of expertise.
As a leader, you should be sensible enough to not 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," said Jay Deakins, founder and CEO of Deacom. "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."
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 want to come off as fair and balanced but avoid calling people out for their negative behavior to avoid potential conflict. Doing so 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," said Mark Feldman, vice president of marketing at Building Engines. "If there is (an) issue, it's best to address it right away when the situation is fresh."
Feldman notes managers incorrectly assume that a problem is the result of incompetence or poor performance when in actuality it's often a result of a misunderstanding of expectations.
"Create an environment that encourages continuous feedback, and be exact with dates and expected outcomes," he said.
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 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 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, national leader 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 will move 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. 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," she added.
"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," said Linda Lefebvre, owner of the My Salon Suite Ottawa franchise.
Not having faith in your abilities
You've been entrusted with a leadership position because someone else trusts your judgment. Consistently second-guessing yourself can rub off on others, and before you know it, no one trusts you. Don'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," said Moran Zur, CEO of SafeBeyond.
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.