In the 30 years since that promotion, I have been able to lead intimate teams of 5 or less, through to voluntary workforces of 300+. And the lessons that I learned from these situations have helped me to improve my personal leadership skillsets and have positively impacted those that I have led.
As I reflect back over the years, I have summarized 9 mistakes that I see leaders make on a regular basis. Would you be accused of making some of these?
1) Do you focus on profits before people?
To me, leading is all about people. They have to come first. And they have to trump profit.
You often hear an organisation say that people are their ‘most valuable resource’. What does that mean? Are you measuring them like an asset on your spreadsheet? Do they count as a profit or loss on your balance?
If you want to truly value your people, make sure that you connect with them. The more that we know about our workforce, the more likely they are to connect with us and our vision – which will make them more productive and profitable to your organisation!
2) You are pre-occupied with your own security
A sure sign of a weak leader is their preoccupation with their own security.
A company I worked for would restructure their organisation every 18 months. The resulting internal chaos was amusing to observe. People would position themselves for the ‘remaining boxes’ that appeared in the revised organizational chart.
To me, as a leader, it was more important to ensure that I could mentor my team to allow them to gain focus and clarity on the path that lay ahead of them. If I could enable them to remove the majority of doubt about their future in the company, I had succeeded.
3) Show a basic disrespect to direct reports
When you look at your direct reports, how do you view them? Are they an asset to your team, able to contribute to its success, or do you see them as a pest, holding you back?
I remember reading Jack Welsh’s autobiography – the self-titled ‘Jack’. As he was leading the six-sigma program across the organisation, he entered a factory in the mid-west, when an employee approached him.
“Mr. Welsh,” this employee said, “I’d like to thank you. For 15 years you’ve had me for my brawn. Now through this program, you are soliciting my ideas. You finally have me for my brain!”
How often do you look to your direct reports for their contributions?
4) Ignore advice from others
I love the ancient Jewish proverb that says, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
Who are you taking your advice from?
Couple this with an ancient African proverb that states that it takes a village to raise a child and you can see the importance to surround yourself with influential people.
5) Avoid communications and rely on policy manuals
When I interviewed staff as part of a consulting assignment, I would offer them a fictitious ‘magic wand’ which they could use to change any two things in their organisation. 99% of them would choose ‘better communication’ as one of the two changes.
What are you doing to change the way that you communicate? Or are you simply relying on the policy manual to get your message out there?
6) Failing to praise and reward
Everybody wants to be a somebody! I’ve yet to meet somebody who, when they woke up said, “I wonder if I could fail today?”
How much time do you take to recognize great work done by your individual team members? Is it straight away or are you inconsistent with your praise and recognition? The longer it takes you to acknowledge exceptional performance, the more you distance your people from you.
7) Holding on to decision-making (Failing to delegate)
They used to say that information is king. I believe that the sharing of information is the maker of a king!
Are you good at delegation or do you tend to hold on to tasks ‘because they won’t do it as well as me?’
8) Failing to define and communicate goals
What is the point of having a goal if it isn’t articulated?
If you don’t stand for something, then you’ll fall for everything. How well defined is the vision and goal for you and your team? Are you giving them a target to aim for or are you allowing them to wander the battlefield aimlessly, subjecting them to the treachery of traversing a minefield?
I would encourage you to create a vision, make it plain and put it on a tablet, so that he who reads it can run!
9) Rushing the recruitment of key roles
The final mistake that I will reference can be the most costly within your organisation. When an opening appears in your team, the pressure of the increasing workload can lead to the appointment of the wrong people to join your team.
Jim Collins, in his book ‘Good to Great’ encourages us to make sure that we have the right people on the bus. But he goes one step further, by asking us whether they are seated in the right seat. In this fast-paced world, I encourage you to take a breath and pause before making a rash decision on your recruitment front. According to a well-known recruiter named Jorgen Sundberg, the real cost of onboarding is a staggering $240,000 per employee.
Sundberg notes that the total cost of recruiting the wrong employee (a mid-level manager who works 2.5 years and is then terminated and replaced) includes hiring, total compensation, eventual severance pay, and other factors like legal fees comes to a total of closer to $840,000 when you factor in all of these costs. Is this a cost that your organisation can handle?