My Three Worst Leadership Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

During college, I had a professor write on the chalkboard “if you’re not making mistakes – you’re not learning”. Leaders must take risks to grow professionally. This approach is never without mistakes. I hope by sharing three of my mistakes – it will encourage you to think about some of yours. We all have them and taking risk is a healthy part of leadership development.

Challenges or Opportunities

My Three Mistakes:

1.I was too sensitive to critical comments. I have had some great opportunities in leadership but one stands out above the rest as a period of real personal growth. Handling negative comments that are valid is the key.  

Story: I became a principal in Atlanta at a real tough time in the economy in the late 80’s. I took over after they let go the principal in the middle of the year. I was 31 at the time and I was the new assistant principal with about 6 months of experience under my belt. The excitement of the new job quickly was replaced with many challenges outside of my control. Atlanta was losing thousands of jobs and the economy forced hardship on every aspect of my work. I wanted to please everyone and my biggest desire was to become a great principal.  I was so eager to do a great job that even helpful criticism became a source of real stress. This stress affected my ability to stay balanced and make good decisions.  Early in my career, I never realized that no matter what you do – there will be always be 10% of the audience who won’t like the direction you choose to go or the decisions you have to make.

Tip: Don’t take it personal – do your homework on your big decisions and seek advice from trusted folks who can give you a balance perspective on complex issues. Then make them and admit when you make mistakes. Shoot straight is always best.

2. Overlooking great performances to deal with problem employees too often – In many cases – the employee who creates a problem by either  not carrying their work load or the one that make lots of mistakes have a way of killing your ability to focus on great performers. You only have some much time each day to invest in  employee relationships – where you spend your time is critical to your success.

Story: I hired a staff member one time and this hire became a problem from the very first day. No matter what I did to help – it just got worst because her basic skills didn’t match the position. I tried to overlook the problem but it just kept killing the operations so I had to admit that I had hired poorly and needed to make a change after three weeks.

Tip: Hire Tough and Manage Easy – One of the most import decision you can make is who is on your team. Choose  them wisely and take extra time if needed to get the right person. You should always take care of great performers first and let go people who are holding you back. It’s tough to do but always best in the long run – it will give you more time with the group who can help you reach the next level. In the long run – you will have greater creditability by taking this action.

3. Not utilizing the strengths or wisdom of others to help me solve problems. – I am sure it must have been my pride that prevented me from calling on others to give me advice on complex issues. We want to tackle problems alone so others don’t see our weaknesses. It’s natural to protect our reputation.

Story: Employees can make huge mistakes in judgment sometimes. I had a former employee that was accused of doing something really unethical long ago. Naturally, that puts you in a tough role when this news is reported to your office.  This is a no-win situation if it checks out to be true.  Be careful who you trust when stories are completely different. This can be a critical mistake on who to believe.  Sometimes the accuser may have another motive to get back at this person and lies about the issues and facts.

Tip: Ask another leader to help you check out the facts. Find someone who you trust to give you the right advice on the issues. This gives you another perspective that may help you to make the right decision. In most cases – you can have them do an independant review and present you their observations and facts.

Conclusion: Mistakes are healthy if they help you to grow as a leader. Repeating the same mistakes over and over or failing to create a different solution in the presence of failure can end your employment earlier.

Question: What mistakes have you made that helped to develop your leadership philosphy- you should share them with others. They are important lessons! GTR

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