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Are You Guilty of these 5 Fatal Leadership Mistakes?

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Leadership is hard. Managing the ‘stuff’ (the processes, things that need to be produced, meeting specifications, quality standards and deadlines) is almost easy in comparison.                            

Why? Because Leadership is about people. It’s about inspiring, delegating, sharing information, transferring authority, enabling creative input, guiding, enthusing, communicating the vision, setting the model, creating culture, supporting … just for starters!

And all these activities require you to work with people. You need to be able to confidently utilise effective and exceptional interpersonal skills and communicate with clarity, empathy – and, most of all, courage.

Some Leaders I’ve worked with over the past 24+ years don’t get this. They seem to operate under the mistaken belief that if they just deliver the expected outputs on time and stay within their operating budget, the shareholders and Board Members will be happy.

I guess in some instances, they may be right. There are some organisations that expect little else while they remain focused on what they consider to be the Key Performance Indicators (usually, the dollars and number of units produced or delivered).

Yet the really smart stakeholders in any business will be acutely aware that their long-term success relies on much more.

It relies on a stable, efficient, effective, knowledgeable, loyal, professional and proactive workforce. Building and maintaining this type of team of employees is where many, many leaders fail.

To ensure you’re not one of the Leaders that fails to make the grade, check to see if you are guilty of any of these fatal leadership mistakes.


Fatal Mistake #1: Being Inauthentic

A poor leader wears a mask in the workplace. He/she takes on a persona that they believe is a requirement of the job and what their manager expects of them.

They share little of themselves, never admit mistakes, ‘spin’ the truth of a situation and can even tell out-and-out lies in order to (they think) keep the peace with their troops.

A great leader demonstrates their healthy self-esteem and confidence in their abilities by being open with their team. They dig deep to find the courage to tell the truth (especially when they know it’s not what their people want to hear), they share their own experiences to assist the learning and growth of their staff, and they show their ‘human side’ by being willing to authentically talk about some of their life outside of work.

They are genuine – and their staff get it.


Fatal Mistake #2: Not Listening

It’s easy to hear … much more challenging to listen.

Poor Leaders will nod their heads (as if in agreement) while an employee speaks with them about a concern, a fear, a problem or even their ideas about how something can be improved. They’ll say something like ‘I hear what you’re saying, but …’, which precisely means they’re not hearing. And they’re certainly not listening. The ineffective leader schedules ‘one-on-one time’ with their staff, assuming that this will make them feel acknowledged and of value to the organisation. Yet it’s what happens during this time that is their downfall.

They might say ‘Yep, I’ll take that on board’ … and then proceed to behave as if the conversation never happened. They don’t get back to the employee with their decision and the reasoning behind it. It may not be intentional. After all, people in leadership positions are busy. Perhaps they get distracted by other critical issues and forget. The end result, though, is an employee who doesn’t feel heard.

Great leaders listen with more than just their ears. They know listening involves more than removing distractions and having eye contact with someone. They listen with their eyes and their heart and maintain a truly open mind about the employee is saying. By doing so, they are able to hear what is often the really important message: they hear what is not being said by words.


Fatal Mistake #3: Waiting for Poor Performers to just leave

It’s not their fault. When do leaders get trained in how to have those difficult conversations with their team? Where is that taught in our educational system?

As a consequence, poor leaders almost literally bury their heads in the sand by avoiding eye contact with and even being in close proximity to that employee who has been under-performing for months on end. Facing the prospect of having to firmly, respectfully and specifically address areas needing significant improvement with a team member is so daunting to them that implicitly sanction the poor performance and expect others in the team to pick up the slack.

A great leader deals with under-performance as soon as it comes to their attention. They take time to plan the conversation – perhaps even writing a bullet point ‘script’ they know they’ll need to follow – and takes action. Privately discussing with the employee what specifically needs to improve – and by when – clearly communicates to the entire team what the expectations of the job are, and the consequences of these not being met.

The great leader knows that the only thing that will come from ignoring the problem is lowered team morale, reduced productivity and efficiency, increased resentment, stress and frustration – and perhaps even the ultimate loss of some really top talent.


Fatal Mistake #4: Failing to Model the Way

Culture always starts at the top.

Yet the poor leader believes the team creates their own norms and guidelines about how things are done. This leader fails to recognise the incredible impact of their behaviour and actions on what employees believe is OK. Taking long lunches? Being consistently late for meetings (or worse, constantly rescheduling these due to a failure to prepare)? Excessive use of personal mobile phone calls? The poor leader doesn’t see that the old parental line of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ won’t cut it in the workplace with adults.

Great leaders walk the talk. They know actions speak louder than words. The don’t ask their team to do anything they themselves wouldn’t be prepared to do. They truly lead by example, understanding that this form of influence has long-term impact and builds the team’s trust in them and their credibility.


Fatal Mistake #5: Forgetting the WHY

‘Don’t ask me why … just do it!’ Prophetic words from the poor leaders mouth.

And then this leader wonders why people are working so slowly, seem to lack motivation and are always disgruntled and complaining.

Employees are not robots. They have brains and are usually quite smart. They like to understand things. They like to see where something fits into the bigger picture. They want to know where ‘their bit’ fits into the bigger scheme of the whole organisation’s activities. If you want to fail as a leader, act as if you didn’t just read this paragraph.

Great leaders answer the ‘what’s in it for me?’ questions for their staff. Moreover, they understand every one of their team probably has a different ‘why’. Some will be there for the reliable pay cheque. Others are there because they truly want to make a contribution. Others simply want to belong to a cohesive team. Some want challenge, some want routine. Some want autonomy, others want clear direction. Great leaders know their team members and respect their ‘why’, even if vastly different to their own.

And great leaders will always explain the reasons behind a change in procedure or process, and the rationale behind a decision. Employees may not agree with what they hear, but they will feel valued for being kept informed and not treated like mere ‘human resources’ that need to keep their heads down, bottoms up – and mouth shut.


Leadership can be learned

If you’ve raised your hand in confession to any of these Leadership mistakes, it’s not too late to change.

All it takes is a desire to learn, an open mind and a true willingness to trial new behaviours and ways of thinking.


Let me help you get started. Send an email to and I’ll be in touch with you to schedule your free coaching session to get the ball rolling.

The only thing you have to lose is by not contacting me. You might find you’re a leader with no team – or, even worse, a leader with no job.

© Copyright 2013  Sandi Givens and Knowledge-Able Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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