7 Mistakes (Nearly) All Leaders Make

Updated: Apr 20

One of the universal truths of leadership (and life) is that we all make mistakes. Great leaders are able to recognise, acknowledge and learn from those mistakes. A great leader adopts a learning mindset and comes out of the other end of a mistake as a stronger, more rounded leader.

To fast track your path to high performance leadership it makes sense to look around you. Look at the common mistakes that many (if not all) leaders make at some point in their careers. Practice some self-reflection. Assess if you have made those same mistakes. Are you making those same mistakes now, but just haven’t realised it yet?

Mistake #1 - Being the answer to every question

A key mistake most leaders make is becoming the answer to every single question their team raises. This generally comes from a good place in the leader’s heart. They want to be supportive and they want to show their value. Where the issue arises is that this does not allow the team the opportunity to learn and grow and think for themselves.

Mistake #2 - “Doing” too much

Another common mistake is newly appointed leaders trying to “do” too much. If they have been promoted from within the ranks they will often continue to do large chunks of their old role as well as taking on their new responsibilities. This can be veiled in thinking they are “leading from the front” or “leading by example” and the leader ends up working incredibly long hours with increasing pressure weighing down on their shoulder. This can also be gilded with the thought they are the best person for every job. The best person to give a presentation; the best person to attend a meeting; the best person to develop a new deliverable; etc, etc.

Beyond the inevitable burnout risk that comes with this, the biggest issue is that it robs their team of development opportunities for their own and the opportunity to shine.

Mistake #3 - Wanting to be the smartest in the room

As a leader you will be engaged in leadership team meetings with your peers all reporting to your boss. A common mistake that many leaders make is to try to “prove” themselves or prove their value in front of their boss and in front of their peers.

It is critically important that you do contribute to those conversations and be active in that leadership team, but it is not a competition to see who can be the smartest in the room.

Mistake #4 - Being Close Minded to Alternate Approaches.

Different is not necessarily wrong. Wrong is wrong, but different it not always wrong.

There is always more than one way to solve any problem or do any task. If one of your team members takes a different approach to the way you would have done the same task, rather than immediately correct them, keep an open mind and assess their approach on its own merits. Does it achieve the same objective in a different way? Does it achieve the outcome in an even better way? Does it just require some fine tuning? There is a great power in having the team member feel empowered and take ownership of their own method to achieve the outcome that is far richer than you just showing them what and how to do it.

This issue is particularly if you have just been promoted from the very role they are performing. If you are the previous incumbent of their role or doing that job as part of the team, you are almost certainly going to have your own (potentially strong) views on the way this job should be done.

Mistake #5 - Correcting Mistakes Yourself

This is one that I personally have had issues with in the past and still comes up from time to time. I am sure you have all experienced something like this before, either on the receiving end or as the reviewer of other people’s work. The scenario that someone has written a document, report or proposal and you are reviewing it for approval. As you review the work you start to find a number of mistakes in approach, content, or grammar. The expedient approach and temptation may lead you to just fix it yourself. This may lead itself to famous, but unhelpful, statements like “don’t worry I will just do it myself” or “If you want something done right; do it yourself”. These are both very limiting statements that often make me cringe when I hear them.

Consider what happens if this is your default approach. Each time you do this it disenfranchises or disempowers the original author. It is also a lost opportunity for learning and development for that person. Worst still it sets a pattern of behaviour. The pattern will continue to repeat itself. The same mistakes will be recreated time and time again. Beyond that, the person may even come to rely on this. “No problem, I will just quickly put something together and the boss will fix it (or correct it)” removing all care and accountability.

Mistake #6 - Expressing your opinion too early

Your team members will always be looking to please you. This leads to them looking for signals from you about what you would like and which direction you would like to head. First time leaders will often default to “telling” rather than “engaging” their teams. When they realise this is not working they will graduate to statements like “this is what I think, but I am interested in your views, what do you think?”. By taking this approach you have already planted the seed in their mind about your preferences and you will have already closed down ideation on new ideas. Staff members that may be just looking to please you may in turn just rephrase your statement to show support of you rather than really thinking and challenging on the topic at hand.