Leadership Mistakes

3 Massive Mistakes That Even Great Leaders Make

By George Dickson on October 05, 2015

It's not easy being the boss. At times it can seem like there are more ways to fail than to succeed. Even great leaders still make big mistakes — sometimes repeatedly. Although occasional mistakes are natural to make, it doesn't mean you have to make the same ones others already have.

Let's take a moment to explore a few of those common mistakes that even great leaders make, and some ways you can avoid making them yourself.

1. Lacking Communication

Communication is everything. Whether you're a marketing agency, an auto manufacturer, or a tech startup, your ability to communicate effectively has a massive impact on your success. This is especially true for those in management.

Communication doesn't need to grind to a halt before you consider improving it.

Your ability to communicate directly impacts your effectiveness as a leader. The difference between serviceable communication and extraordinary communication is huge.

So how do you improve communication in your organization?

Start by defaulting to transparency. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to adopt a policy of radical transparency. It's as easy as shifting your perspective from asking "Is it necessary to share this info with the team?" to asking "Is it absolutely necessary to keep this info from the team."

As Peter Economy, the Leadership Guy shared in his Inc article,

"Make every effort to get employees the information they need to do their jobs quickly and efficiently."

There are also some extraordinarily useful tools like Slack, HipChat, and Yammer that are reinventing the possibilities of business communication.

2. Mismanaged Expectations

It's one thing to be ambitious, and another thing entirely to misunderstand your team's capacity. There's a fine line between motivating your team to exceed their limitations, and pushing them too hard.

You can help your team surpass their limitations, but you can't expect them to give more than they have.

This may be one of the most common mistakes leaders make. Management expert Robert H. Schaffer explained this propensity in a Harvard Business Review article he wrote:

"In all the organizations I have observed, managers commit several transgressions when making demands of their people."

Leaders often make this mistake, and end up with a demoralized and poorly engaged workforce, carrying the assumption that their best will never be good enough.

The key is keeping the message positive, and finding the right balance. If an employee makes great strides in a particular area, make sure to recognize their accomplishment.

If you can't always be there to personally congratulate employees on the improved contributions they're making, ensure that you've engineered an environment where their peers easily can.

3. Unbalanced Participation

It's incredibly challenging to strike the perfect balance between micromanagement, and a laissez-faire free-for-all. In fact, finding the perfect balance of participation might be one of the greatest employee engagement challenges leaders face.

Although nobody likes a micromanager, most employees benefit from direct access to the mentorship of a strong leader. Just because people aren't asking for help doesn't mean they don't need it. N2 Publishing's COO Marty Fukuda put it well in a recent Entrepreneur article he wrote:

"I wholeheartedly believe even the best leaders benefit from mentors, so why would your team be any different?"

The challenge is having a clear understanding of the difference between guidance or mentorship, which are very positive tools you can provide your team, and micromanagement, which corrodes confidence and engagement.

You need to learn how to be there for your employees when they need you, and not when they don't.

It's unfortunately common that leaders (and most people, really) lack insight into their own behavior. If you're not really sure where your management style truly lies, here's a quick rule of thumb to check:

1. Do you often find yourself doing work, or making decisions you hired an expert for?
You're probably a micromanager.

2. Are your employees actively soliciting advice and guidance from you?
You're probably a mentor.

Make sure that your actions support the team  to your best to be a great facilitator, not a participator in their daily work.

These are just a few of the most common mistakes that even great leaders still make. By learning from these mistakes, you can improve your own leadership style, and be a bigger asset to your team.

Written by George Dickson

George Dickson

George manages content and community at Bonusly. He's dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures through thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition.