33 Leadership Mistakes to Avoid in 2021
These really are mistakes we should always avoid, but some of them are even more important in our new hybrid world.
Disclaimer: I've made ALL of these mistakes, and I am glad I did.
Have you ever noticed how much more you learn from a mistake? We take time to reflect and think, "What the heck happened, and how can I make sure that never happens again?!"
We think of everything that led to the mistake and strategize a plan to never make the same mistake again.
I cannot say the same for my successes. When I achieve something great, it is hard for me to recall all the details that led to that outcome.
However, I would much rather learn from someone else's mistake than my own (mistakes are unavoidable, I know, but I prefer to make as few as possible).
So, my gift to you is this long list of mistakes I've made (so far) as a leader, along with some simple tips on how you can avoid them:
Hiring too quickly - We do this when we need to replace someone who just left, or we are hiring for many roles because we work for a great company that is expanding like crazy. Whatever the reason is, do not rush the hiring process! I repeat, do not. You will spend so much time training and replacing someone who is not a good fit for the company, team, or role you are hiring them for. Yes, you might have great intuition and get lucky from time to time, but most of the time, hiring too quickly does not end well.
Tip: Have at least 3 interviews with the candidate in different places (office, zoom, coffee shop, etc.). Someone can fake their personality once, but the truth usually comes out after a couple of meetings. Would you marry someone you just met? No, not unless you are Anna who should have listened to Elsa. We all know how that relationship ended.
Hiring friends - Just because you like them outside of work does not always mean they will be the best fit for your team.
Tip: Hire the best-fit candidate. Have a consistent interview process, so you gather the same information from each person and make sure the person you hire is the best match for the role you are filling.
Hiring without any data to back up your decision - My intuition is highly inaccurate, so I rely a lot on data, but everyone should use it in some capacity.
Tip: Use hiring tools during your interview process. I prefer the PXT assessment. Even better, have your current employees take the assessment and hire to the strengths of the best employees. This is the closest you can legally come to cloning your top performers.
Not getting to know your people personally - some leaders fear getting too close to employees in fear of compromising the professional relationship. This is wrong. Getting to know someone lets them know you care about them as a person and not just a revenue generator. They will work much harder for you when they know you care.
Tip: Have a set list of questions that you ask everyone about their life outside of work. Customize your approach with each individual, but it helps to know what you feel comfortable learning about so you feel good about the professional relationship too.
Tip 2: Ask these questions early in the relationship. Spend the first few months with your new hire training them to be successful and learning who they are as a person.
Not letting your people know you personally - This fosters trust, respect and ignites the intrinsic motivation within your people. Being real is always a good choice (unless the real you is a jerk).
Tip: Have open dialogues with your team. Tell them what you are excited about in your personal life. Tell them stories about what happened over the weekend. Keep in mind, there is a fine line between being relatable and talking too much about yourself. A good way to handle this is, always ask about your people to tell you more about them and be open when they ask you about yourself. You do not need to be the one to initiate the "get to know me" talk.
Keeping people in the wrong role for too long - Firing people sucks. This is why we need to hire and use all the available tools to hire the right person for the role. Sometimes, we will hire someone who does not work out, and we need to correct this before it impacts the team and company culture.
Tip: Set clear expectations around what success looks like for a particular role, have consistent feedback sessions, and when performance is not where it should be, address it right away. Find out what is going on, plan with the individual on how to turn things around, and set check-ins. If performance does not change, it is time for the individual to move on. Trust me, the parting of ways will be good for both parties. Nobody enjoys failing at work, and they will find a role that their talents are more suited for.
Being a "fixer" - It does not work in relationships, and it does not work at work. You cannot drastically change people.
Tip: Understand someone's talents before hiring them. If they lack a skill that can be taught, teach it. If they lack the talent needed, understand that this is nearly impossible to change.
Hiring people into the wrong role - I liked to hire reps that I thought would make great managers someday. Turns out, they were a little overqualified to be a rep.
Tip: Hire for the role they will be in. If they are meant to be leaders right away, and you hire them to be a rep, chances are, they will not be the ideal fit for the role.
Spending little time with top performers so they can "Do their thing" - This one is SO EASY to do. You have a wonderful rep who exceeds goals, and you do not have to do a thing. WRONG! These amazing reps are the first to burn out, the first to leave due to lack of recognition or professional development, and the first to get bored if we do not offer them stretch opportunities.
Tip: Schedule time to spend with these individuals and make sure you are providing value when you both are together. Ask them what their ideal leader does for them, and do it. Leaders should spend MORE time with their top performers than their lowest producers.
Spending too much time with low producers - This does not mean ignore new hires. It means, if you have 2 people who have both been with you for 1 year and one is 200% to goal while the other is 30% to goal, you need to be spending more of your time with the person who is 200% to goal.
Tip: Have consistent 1:1s and coaching sessions with each direct report. Schedule extra development time with your top performers. Still, work to get the 30%er to over 100% but know when it is time to realize they might not be the best fit for the role. Do not forget about your top performers while trying to bring up the low producers.
Ignoring the 80/20 principle - 20% of your time, effort, people... bring you 80% of your results.
Tip: List everything you do for your role and pay attention to what yields the greatest results. Then, do those things more often and the other things less often or not at all.
Being a spreadsheet manager - "Oh, look! I have this dashboard and excel document with expectations and actual performance on it. I should probably spend our entire 1:1 each week talking about where we are and where we should be." This is not the worst thing you can do as a leader, but it can cause people capable of more to only live up to the expectation. This can also cause people who are consistently underperforming to give up.
Tip: Use KPIs and other spreadsheet-style tools as a GUIDE. Let your team know you expect them to blow past the expectation. When people are underperforming, ask them what is going on and let them lead the conversation. Once you know their story, ask them what we can do to get on track. Then, ask how they would like you to hold them accountable. There will be accountability, and spreadsheets are great for tracking, but you need to know how to motivate each individual to perform at their highest potential.
Confusing talents and skills - We use our talents often, and they are noticed at a young age. These usually cannot be taught. For example, when someone can command an audience's attention without using any tips or tricks, this is a talent. We can teach a skill. Like, how to juggle. Some people are better at juggling, but this is a skill we can all learn with practice.
Tip: Place someone in a role where they can use their talents daily.
Allowing frustration with one team member to affect my attitude towards others
Tip: Don't do that. If you are having trouble with someone on your team, keep a good attitude with everyone else.
Doing instead of teaching - It takes time to teach someone, but teaching them will enable them to be more independent, which saves you time in the long run.
Tip: Teach instead of doing. When you catch yourself trying to take a shortcut by doing it yourself, stop!
Telling instead of coaching - When someone is struggling. It is easy to tell them all the things they should be doing. Most of the time, people know what they should be doing, so this is an annoying conversation.
Tip: Ask for their observations of the situation and their plan to correct it. Provide accountability and schedule next steps/check-ins, so the changes happen.
Avoiding tough conversations - The more you wait, the more awkward the conversation becomes.
Tip: Create a culture of feedback. When someone is not doing what needs to be done or stepped out of line in some way, schedule a conversation and correct it as soon as possible.
Micromanaging - Hire people you can trust and let them do their job. You will need to support them more early on, but do not ask why they were not on their computer at 8:00 AM sharp - especially in 2021. Yes, I did this when I was a new leader. That great (really great) new hire did not stick around very long.
Tip: Set clear expectations, measure outcomes, and lead by example.
Ignoring my own development - It is easy to get too busy, as leaders, for our own professional development. This needs to stay high enough on your priorities that you spend time on it each day.
Tip: Listen to audiobooks and podcasts while driving or working out. You can even host a book club for your team to work on your development while enhancing your team's as well.
Forgetting how to be proactive - Reacting to emails, calls, fires, co-workers, your bosses, and other attention-robbing things makes it impossible for us to be proactive. This hinders us from getting the most important things done.
Tip: Prioritize your to-do list before the day begins and decide on the 1-2 most important things that must be done that day. Also, only check email at specific times throughout the day rather than every single time a new one appears in your inbox.
Treating everyone the same - Yes, you read that correctly. We need to treat everyone fairly, but not the same.
Tip: Find out what motivates each person on your team and what they expect from you. Provide the support needed while motivating them to achieve more than they ever thought they could.
Forgetting the importance of fun - Multiple studies show that employees who have fun are also more productive. It seems counterintuitive, but when we would have 9 hour long call days that involved very high expectations, our teams always did great. Why? We broke up the day (usually 2-hour increments) with fun games and contests. This is especially important for sales teams. Have you ever talked to a sales rep who is having a bad day and probably hates their job? Did you want to buy what they were selling? Fun also improves engagement which means better results and less turnover.
Tip: Plan fun team events once a quarter. Going even further by doing these events cross-functionally breaks down the inevitable silos that happen as companies grow.
Forgoing self-care - This goes along with the too busy thing that can happen. We all know, when we take care of ourselves, we are more productive at work, happier, make better decisions, and other people like us more.
Tip: Schedule time for you -- on your calendar. Block off the first 2 hours in the morning to work out, meditate, read, drink coffee, plan the day, or whatever you need to do for yourself. If you are not a morning person, chose a time that works for you. Ideally, if you can make it simultaneously each day, you will be more successful. I like the morning because it is more predictable.
Letting work take over all areas of my life - work is not the only thing in your life, and when you are 95 years old, your work will not matter nearly as much as your health and the relationships you developed throughout your life.
Tip: Set constraints on the time you spend working. Is it 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM? Is it 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM? Whatever it is, make sure it is not 24/7 and when you are with your family or friends, BE WITH THEM. Put your phone away, turn it off, do whatever you need to do to be present.
Pushing people too hard - The people you lead are not you.
Tip: Communicate with your people enough to know what they need from you to succeed and give them that. Set clear next steps after conversations, so you do not have to check in every time you wonder if they are working on the thing you discussed during your last conversation.
Thinking my work ethic is the only way to succeed - silly mistake. People who appear to be trying less can still achieve great things.
Tip: Understand that we are all individuals and nothing we do is the end all be all right way.
Doing exactly what my manager told me to do - Our leaders are great and provide amazing coaching and insight. Sometimes, they might be more disconnected from your team than they realize, and their advice might not be what is best.
Tip: Take advice from your leader and present it in a way that will work for you and your team.
Not setting clear boundaries - Responding to emails at 5:00 AM and 11:00 PM means we do not have good boundaries.
Tip: Let your team know when to expect responses from you (they should be within 24 hours), and let them know when you will not respond because you will be spending time with family or participating in other activities that help you recharge. This will teach them to do the same, which will make them much better employees.
Setting unsustainable expectations
Tip: Learn what leads to the best outcomes CONSISTENTLY.
Too many contests - They are fun, but too many dilute the excitement, and people will start to hold back until there is a contest.
Tip: Figure out what types of contests are motivating and fun but do not lead to lower production during non-contest times.
Doubting people - We know when someone does not have faith in our abilities. For some people, it pushes us to do better, but for others, it causes doubt in themselves.
Tip: Work through your perceptions of people and do what you need to do to trust them and motivate them to perform their best.
Incorrectly prioritizing my time - This is difficult at all levels of leadership and in all aspects of life.
Tip: Refer back to the 80/20 principle. Write out everything you do and identify what activities yield the greatest results. Also, think about which people yield the greatest results and prioritize them.
Ignoring signs of overwork and stress - Getting sick often, trouble sleeping, making more mistakes than normal, not finding enjoyment in anything, tense neck, irritability, and relationships going down the drain are all signs of overwork and stress. Pay attention to them and make the necessary corrections before you are alone with a chronic illness.
Tip: Check in with yourself and notice how you feel. Schedule quality time with your partner, friends, and kids. Schedule time for things you enjoy that have nothing to do with work. Trust me, doing this will make you more successful at work.
I know there are more that will come to me an hour after I post this. For now, I hope you can leverage my mistakes in becoming a better leader.
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