mistakes leaders make

Do You Make This Leadership Mistake?

I received an email from one of my coaching clients the other day. He asked me to provide him some context on a situation he found interesting. I love interacting with my clients in this way and so I thought I would share the scenario with you and get your perspective, because I would love to know your thoughts on the subject.


The Email goes something like this:

Hi Scott, I met with a leader in our organization yesterday to interview her for a position we have coming available. This person has many of the attributes and attitudes that we look for in leaders on our team.  She was confident, articulate, driven, has a good background, and answered most questions quite well. She was a skilled interviewer in many respects.

However, when I asked her - in 3 different ways - for a "personal development opportunity" or "critical feedback you've received" she had no answer at all and couldn't come up with anything.  I even gave her an example of one that I've worked on to try to prompt her.  No answer still.

I'm kinda curious now - what's your read on someone who can't come up with a personal weakness or area for development?

Here are some ideas I gave to my client on what could be going on:

  1. Lack of  self-awareness.  This means that she doesn't know herself well enough to know when she has been given feedback, or how to process the information. A lack of self-awareness is actually quite common in leadership development. The Handbook of Leadership Development states that this is a key aspect of understanding ones strengths and weaknesses, what one does well and not so well, what one is comfortable and not comfortable with, what situations bring out the best and worst in us all, and the “whys” behind all of these. Self-awareness means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the leader and the effect these have on others in different situations and contexts.
  2. Poor listener.  Even though you asked in 3 different ways, it is possible that she didn't understand your question, or she didn't understand the feedback when people gave it to her. In my book, 7 Secrets of an Emotionally Intelligent Coach I describe how this poor listening can happen.  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF THE CHAPTER WHERE THIS IS DESCRIBED.  In any conversation there are three actually happing. The first is between the two participants. The next two conversations are the ones that each participant is having with themselves. If the conversation you are having with yourself has a “higher volume” than the one you are having with the other person, you are not listening to them, only preparing what to say next when they stop talking.
  3. Arrogance. It is common for the leadership literature to call this narcissism. Another common description is pride, or being so self-absorbed that the feedback that she has been given in the past just washed over her like water splashing on a rock. In this case she heard the feedback and rejects it.
  4. Omniscience. A high level of knowing is often seen as a positive quality in a leader. Both knowledge and experience can be  very valuable commodities to a leader. Robert Sternberg, when writing in the area of foolishness in A Handbook of Wisdom, describes that a leader who has expertise, power, or a great deal of knowledge, runs a risk of falling into the trap of believing they are all knowing. If a leader falls into this trap input from outside sources begins to lose value compared to the information they already have.
  5. Lack of  self-regard. Self-regard is an ability to be able to accept yourself for who you are and have an appreciation for your positive attributes and your perceived negative traits, while still feeling good about yourself. This means all of the external confidence that had been observed by this leader in the interview was just window dressing.  It is possible that her view of self was so low or distorted that she was afraid that admitting a fault would show such weakness that her ability to get the job would be in jeopardy. Steve Stein and Howard Book, in The EQ Edge state that leaders who fail because of difficulties with self-regard can not tolerate to have their “warts” visible publicly.

At this point many of you are trying to see if you can come up with another attribute that I may have missed. Let’s resist the temptation (using a heightened level of Impulse Control) to be organizational psychologists, and instead turn our thoughts more to ourselves.

How are YOU doing on being able to answer the question, “What is your personal development opportunity”? I am sure you all could mail this one in... you know, just write something down so that HR and your boss are satisfied. But why not stretch yourself a bit? Get honest with yourself and ask, "what is it that I really need to work on that is going to make me a more effective leader?"

If you ever want to talk about that sometime, let me know. In the mean time I would really value your thoughts on other leadership mistakes you have made, or that you have seen made. I would like to compile a list of these and do a post someday so that we can learn from each other.

7 Common Mistakes New Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them

I just finished a great couple of days training some folks who are in their first year of formal leadership on the importance of emotional intelligence and the impact their emotions have on their leadership effectiveness. photo-1427088625471-da8a7193afd3

As I am reflecting on the day we spent, it occurred to me there are some common pitfalls those who are new to leadership must avoid. Who knows, maybe some of you who are leadership veterans may want to check yourself against this list.

7 Common Mistakes New Leaders Make

  1. Contribution Method. You have been rewarded in the past, and most likely even promoted, because of your strong individual contributions. You will still need to contribute as a leader, however, what you do and how you do it shifts radically. Rather than getting your individual tasks accomplished, you now need to establish the culture that those who follow will work in.Check Yourself: Do you spend more time on directing people on tasks or creating your teams culture?
  2. Personal Satisfaction. When you were an individual contributor you probably got a lot of personal satisfaction from the tasks you accomplished and the recognition from your supervisor, colleagues, and peers. This changes drastically as a leader. The recognition is rarely for you personally, as it shifts to be more about what the team is able to accomplishment.Check Yourself: As the compliments for a job well done decrease, shift your need for personal recognition from tasks done well to serving others and getting personal satisfaction when others succeed. Your reward is when they succeed.
  3. Feeling Overwhelmed. In your past role as an individual contributor, you had it all together. It was all about you, and you had a successful flow to your work. That feeling of flow now feels more like you are running a race in lead boots. You want to go fast but there is just so much. The “knee jerk reaction” to feeling overwhelmed is, “Let me just do it myself”.Check Yourself: Most of you, while your work feels urgent, are really in more of a marathon and not a sprint. If you are sprinting, find the most urgent thing and focus yourself and your team only on that for a very short time. If your not sprinting, start your morning with some reflection time on what needs done today. Make a prioritized list and work your way through it. Do not add new things to the front of the list. At the end of the day review your list and feel good about what you did.
  4. Face your uncertainty. "I don't think this person on my team is performing but I am not sure.” Obtaining a clear standard for performance is imperative for those new to leadership. They are coming from an individual contributor role and they know the benchmark they had for themselves, but can be unsure at times if this standard is appropriate to apply to everyone across the team.Check Yourself: If you are unsure of the standards needed for your team, write down what you think they should be. Talk them through with your manager, a mentor, or a coach. Then sit down and talk with your team about the performance standards. Share with them the expectations you have and create a dialogue around the topic. Do this with an attitude of high standards but flexibility. If the team has input or questions along the way be open to them and never hold a defensive posture in this open setting. You can state your position clearly but you never want to seem defensive in the conversation.
  5. Be Yourself. I am sure there are people you emulate in leadership and that is ok. Leaders who have shown courage in the face of adversity, or someone who took a moral high ground when it was not the popular position. Perhaps they showed care and compassion when you needed it most. These are all fine qualities to try and emulate. Think about them and reflect on how you can emulate them if you desire the same trait, but realize you are not them. Trying to be someone you are not can put you in an uncomfortable bind.  Most teams I talk to when I do interviewing for multi-rater feedback say they want a genuine leader, someone who is authentic, and that they can trust.Check Yourself: Create a list of 6 to 7 leadership principles. These are short statements that reflect who you are as a leader. You can include things like: your vision, your standards for performance, the skill you expect, how you communicate, respect for people, what you value in work or in life. After you create this list share it with your coach or mentor. Have them challenge you on each point and hold you accountable to live this way. Have a poster made and put it in your office with the principles on it. Be sure and share it with your team so they know the leader you want to become.
  6. Differentiate Responsibility from Accountability. You are responsible for the team. They are all accountable for their own contribution. I know it seems like a fine line here, but you have to find a way to separate the individual work that people on your team need to do from your own performance. You will be judged in total for the team, you are accountable for what they do and how they perform. They are responsible for their individual contributions. Do not take responsibility for their actions. Hold them responsible for what they do. They will respect you for this and you will build trust along the way.Check Yourself: Can you clearly delineate between these two areas? If you find yourself too much into the detail of their work then you may be crossing this line. Allow those on your team freedom to create accomplishment.
  7. Clearly articulate: Repeat your expectations over and over and over. Repeat it until you see it. You can not just say it once and think they have it. Repetition is the mother of all learning. Too many leaders I work with say, “well I told them 4 weeks ago”. If what you are trying to get across is really important to you, find as many ways to say the same thing as you can.Check Yourself: You will know when they get your expectation when they are doing it and not just hearing it and saying it. Watch the behaviors. When they go from hearing to doing they will have achieved knowing.
[reminder]So what do you think? Are there any common mistakes you see new leaders make? Let's see if we can build on this list.[/reminder]