The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make


I have been around business for a long time, between my corporate life and as an entrepreneur, and have made loads of mistakes and learned a lot on the way.

I have invested in businesses that I shouldn’t have, I have hired people I should not have and have fired others I shouldn’t! But, none of mistakes have been fatal – more out of luck than anything else.

As I said, along that road I have learned so many lessons, but if I had to pick out one right now that, I believe, is absolutely fatal in any business, what do you think it would be?

Okay, I am not going to go through the gamut of options, I will tell you.

The biggest mistake is focusing on the wrong things!

This may seem so obvious but I guarantee you it is a huge issue, and the consequences are enormous.

It is critical – whether you are a large corporation or a small start up, but I would argue that it can be more fatal, and quicker to become so, if it is a small and evolving business. Large corporations tend to have the resources to carry them through – smaller businesses do not!

An exercise I do with my clients is to answer the following questions:

What are the top 3 things we must deliver in next 12 months that will ensure we have a viable business? And what are they in order of priority?

Those seem like very simple questions, but my experience is that it is hard to get them answered! I really push back and challenge every answer as to why it is in the top 3. I have never done the exercise either with myself or anyone else where the first answer is the final one.

Having identified what they are, then it is to agree the priority. Again, rarely, is the priority first offered, the one they settle on.

One attribute that all successful companies and entrepreneurs have in common is that they are absolutely crystal clear about their priorities.

The biggest mistake leaders make is assuming that everyone is clear and on the same page!

The next stage is to agree these with the leadership team. If you don’t then everyone works in their own silos, focused on their own agendas and are then surprised when the total output of all their efforts has not delivered what the business needs.

Once the leadership team is clear, the next stage is to ensure that these priorities are now cascaded throughout the business – and it matters not whether you have 5000 employees or 5! It is exactly the same.

Alignment to these goals is fundamental to success. This is not a quick email or town hall speech. It takes continuous effort all along the journey!

Once that alignment has been achieved the next challenge is to ask everyone: how much of your time is being spent on the delivery of these key goals?

If the time that is actually being spent is not consistent with the 3 key goals, then you need to really look at what you, and your people, are spending their time doing.

So, right here and right now – what are your top 3 and what is their order of priority? Is today’s diary reflective of those 3? If not, what are you going to do?

If you asked your team would they respond with your 3? If not, what are you going to do?

The really successful companies get this right!


John Murphy


John Murphy has been running his own consultancy business, John Murphy International, for over 10 years.

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