Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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Leadership and followership

4 Common mistakes leaders make

A man in a suit is surrounded by fingers pointing at him. He is covering his face.
Figure 4 All leaders will make mistakes.

You don’t have to be a poor leader to make mistakes. All leaders will have good and bad outcomes regularly throughout their careers, no matter how good their intentions. The point is to learn from those mistakes and, even better, learn from other people’s mistakes before you make them yourself!

Rebecca Fielding offers the following advice:

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Transcript

REBECCA FIELDING:
Absolutely every leader makes mistakes in the workplace. That is part of being a leader, particularly in the early stages of leadership. You'll make many, many mistakes in the first few years. You will believe things to be true that simply aren't about yourself or about other people. You'll make decisions based on the information that's perhaps incomplete, or that you've made assumptions, or you've made connections that weren't there. That's very normal, particularly if you're under pressure and you're under stress. And if you're new into a role, you've also got what I would call a very steep learning curve to go through as well at the same time. So there's an awful lot going in terms of your thinking and what you're focusing on at work. And under pressure, under stress with lots to think about, you're more likely to make mistakes. So the first and most important thing to say is you will make mistakes, and that's OK. And that's perfectly normal. The most important thing for good leaders is to know how to learn from those mistakes and what to do about it. So number one, as soon as you recognise that you've made a mistake, share that information with somebody that you trust. Think about how you want to either rectify that mistake or you want to do something differently or make a different decision. So I think often as a leader, people are very reticent. So I've changed my mind. I had it wrong. And therefore, I have to change my mind. Instead, I like to say to particularly new leaders, it's OK to say, I had this information. I made the best decision I could at that point in time. And since then, I've got some new information, and I've made a different decision as a result. That's perfectly OK to be able to do that. And again, it's back to communication with people- A, to communicate when you've made a mistake and reflect why you've made a mistake, and then the most important thing is decide what you're going to do about it. Now, there's a three-step model that I use a great deal with people when they have made a mistake at work. We're all very conscientious. We all come to work wanting to do a great job, don't we? Nobody comes in going, I'm going to do a really awful job today. I'm going to make a terrible decision. Nobody thinks that. So we set out trying to make good decisions and do good work. So when people make mistake, I often say to them, first of all, just feel the pain that you're feeling right now- the embarrassment, the frustration, the concern, the worry, whatever it might be that you feel. And now what's the lesson that you can take from that experience? Think about what you want to do differently going forward, how you want to improve the lesson, and attach that to the pain that you're feeling. Think about attaching the two. Because that is how the human brain works. The human brain will go, I never want to feel like this again. And so therefore, I'm going to learn this lesson-- much like a toddler touching a very hot radiator. It's exactly the same process. So you train your brain to learn something new, take a new insight about yourself or others or business or whatever it might be that you've learned. Now, the third and most important step in this process is the one that everyone forgets. So once you've done that, to move on, to let it go, to move confidently forward, accepting that everyone makes mistakes, believing in yourself and that you've learned from that experience and that you can become better as a result. Move forward confidently and positively, owning that mistake, not being ashamed of it and not letting it drag you down for years and years and years to come, which is what some people do. So go forth, confident you're going to try your best, realising you'll make mistakes, and asking for help when you do.

End transcript
 
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Activity 5 encourages you to consider some common examples of leadership mistakes, and to suggest possible solutions.

Activity 5 Common mistakes and possible solutions

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Here are six examples of common leadership mistakes. Use the space below each one to propose possible solutions, and then reveal the comment.

Lack of clear vision

Your team doesn’t know why they are doing something or what they are working towards. They don’t have a sense of what success looks like. They lack direction and waste time on activities that might, or might not, be useful.

Possible solutions:

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Discussion

Be clear about what your team are working towards or what success looks like. Regularly communicate with them in different ways to create a shared sense of purpose. Don’t make it complicated – create a concise message, or better still, involve them in creating that message. Your team will be more engaged and better motivated as a result.

Poor communication

Individuals don’t know what you want from them or whether you think they are doing a good job, so they feel uncertain and lack commitment. They don’t know how best to communicate with you so they stop trying.

Possible solutions:

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Discussion

Provide timely praise or constructive feedback. Make yourself regularly available for debate and discussion. The more you understand what motivates or concerns them, the better you will be at finding ways to inspire them and mutual trust will grow. The team will feel valued and important.

Micromanagement and failure to delegate

Your team members feel that you don’t trust them or value their input, and are demotivated. They start to wait for your instructions and are less likely to show initiative.

Possible solutions:

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Discussion

Find the right balance between letting trusted members of your team take responsibility for key activities, and overseeing those activities to ensure they’re moving forward as you expect. Employees will feel empowered and trusted and that will increase their commitment and motivation.

Recruiting the wrong people

Individuals who lack key skills or have the wrong attitude can be very damaging to both team morale and the progress of a project. If you thought that person would fit in, what does that say about your opinion of everyone else?

Possible solutions:

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Discussion

Take the time to surround yourself with good people who you can trust and delegate to. You’ll have more time to focus on the elements of leadership that will maximise team performance and get the best results.

Failing to develop your team

You haven’t invested in upskilling your team, yet your expectations are high and keep growing. Employees feel unappreciated and out of their depth, losing confidence and motivation.

Possible solutions:

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Discussion

Get to know the developmental needs of your team and align them with your vision and strategic plan. Make sure that everyone has an opportunity to develop themselves (including you). It doesn’t have to be an expensive training course – it could be work shadowing in a similar department etc.

Failing to lead by example

You never attend their meetings or events, so they assume you aren’t interested in what they do. You are always on your phone. Although they are business calls, your team don’t know that. They start to copy your behaviour.

Possible solutions:

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Discussion

Attend key team meetings or events the team have organised and ensure you participate in an appropriate way. Model the behaviours you look for in your team. A good work–life balance is important, so make sure you work reasonable hours and take the time to check on anyone who is still in the office when you leave.

The solutions to each of the issues highlighted will vary depending on your context, and you may find that several solutions are required to address the issue effectively. Identifying and acknowledging the mistake is the starting point, then you can start to consider other behaviours and approaches that might be more successful.

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