To be a leader is to be human, and to be human is to make mistakes. Some mistakes matter more than others, but they’re all part of the journey of continually improving as a leader. Every leader makes mistakes at one time or another. The key to avoiding them is to be conscious of them.
So, here are six critical mistakes that exceptional leaders avoid:
- Hoarding Power Instead of Giving it Away – Someone at work who does this is probably coming to mind right now. Empowering others is the best way to build satisfaction, trust, community, and stronger performance. Bring people into the discussion and decision-making process. By all means, influence, guide and educate, but avoid unilateral decisions as much as possible. Sometimes, a single authority is needed, but, often times, it’s not. Don’t be greedy – share the power and more will come your way.
- Treating Visions as One-Time Discussions – Visions are sometimes treated as a single step on a linear journey to a particular destination/goal/mission/etc. Building an initial vision may happen once, but, if it’s not being re-tuned and re-communicated on a regular basis, then the team or community won’t be driven by it. Visions need to remain in our consciousness (just like this list!) so that we can pay attention to them and be motivated by them.
- Making the Wrong Things Personal – Engagement and contributions are personal. The vision and the follower’s place in the vision are personal. The reasons for being in the community are personal. Leaders should focus in on the individual’s personal relationship to the work at hand. While rapport can be based on the activity in people’s “other lives,” stay away from the sex, politics (including social drama), and religion. It takes a highly-skilled diplomat to navigate those risky waters. Failures to deliver a task on-time or with high quality are managerial issues – so don’t make them personal either.
- Thinking that Facts are Enough – Facts are meaningless without context, and how those facts are placed in a context is what’s called a “frame.” Framing the facts based on the audience or the situation is critical. Assuming that people will automatically understand all of the implications of the facts on their own is risky. Why? Everyone has a different personal frame that they will apply in the absence of a communicated one.
- Not Acknowledging a Crisis or a Challenge for What It Is – When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and that’s exactly why a strong leader needs to recognize a crisis or a challenge for what it is. Without acknowledging the problem, three things happen: 1) fear and anxiety have an environment to grow in, 2) people won’t be motivated to address it head-on, and 3) people will think a leader is out-of-touch. Acknowledge and lead.
- Bending Too Easily to Pressure – This seems to be more challenging and relevant than ever. As a result, it is also the most difficult to balance with item 1. Sometimes a community will want something or an external force will bear down (e.g. press, a more senior boss, etc.), and the leader is faced with significant pressure and conflicting interests. Making an unpopular decision is difficult, but it’s the responsibility of the leader to stand up to that pressure on behalf of the team, vision, mission, etc. when needed and make the call. The trick here is to balance pressure with community values and ideals – it’s not easy!
I have found that the best leaders are those who act as a first among equals, a voice for a collective consciousness, and a servant to the community or mission at hand. The truth is that everyone makes mistakes and leaders are no exception. The key is to avoid repeating those mistakes. That’s what helps create exceptional leadership. Like so many things in life, it’s more of a journey than it is a destination, since no one’s perfect. If we can be honest with ourselves, we can acknowledge the mistakes we’re making and improve.
Of course, it should be clear that these aren’t the only mistakes that exceptional leaders avoid. What are some other mistakes that great leaders should avoid making? One mistake I made in my first post last week was that it was too long! This one’s shorter, and I hope it was valuable – thanks for reading!
Jesse Chen is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Society Board of Directors. He is an experienced leader, technology strategist, and the co-founder and CEO of Powerline, an exciting mobile app and web platform that helps leaders and communities interact in meaningful ways (now in private beta). In addition to his work with Omicron Delta Kappa, he is active in global civil society causes.
Images courtesy of iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net