The rigors of leadership can leave one worn down and sometimes a bit vulnerable. I have compiled a list of common mistakes that may show up from time to time. These usually appear when we are burned out and are in need of some time off. Unchecked, these mistakes can cause some real damage. If you have seen any of these appear on a regular basis, or if the quotes could belong to you, you may need more than a vacation.
1. Lack of trust in others: “people will burn you, keep your distance, avoid the pain.” Every leader gets taken advantage of from time to time. We have to avoid becoming cynical and hard hearted. If you can’t work with and trust people, you can’t be a leader.
2. Inability to delegate: “if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.” In the short-term, it takes longer to train someone how to do a job or complete a project. In the long-run, training others and delegating tasks is vital to survival. Hand something off!
3. Prepare too little: “who has time to prepare? I’m too busy doing the work to spend time preparing.” This is a trap that catches chronically busy leaders. If you are too busy to plan ahead and approach your responsibility from a fully prepared position, you need to back off of something. (Maybe try delegating something!)
4. Shortcutting the processes: “I don’t need to work hard, there is an easier way.” Some things simply require blood sweat and tears. A shortcut will have negative results. Don’t get lazy with your leadership. Admittedly, we can usually work smarter, not harder, but there is no substitute for diligence.
5. Eliminating constructive critics: “Either you are for me or against me, it you don’t agree with me, hit the road.” Because someone disagrees with you or your approach does not necessarily mean that they are your enemy. Learn how to hear criticism and determine whether it will help you or harm you.
6. Limiting input from the young: “These kids know nothing. They should just keep their mouths closed and let those with more experience get things done.” This is a sure sign of a stagnant leader. It is true that wisdom comes with age but young people bring innovation and energy that is rare among the more mature.
7. Limiting impact of the older: “These old guys are washed up, they don’t know how things operate today, they need to step aside and let someone younger take over.” Seasoned people bring things to the table that are irreplaceable. Don’t be so focused on relevance to our culture that you bypass some time-tested ideas.
8. Too much time listening to critics. “I can’t get beyond the things they said. They have destroyed my confidence, my future is ruined because of them.” Although critics may prove to be our best friend, we cannot allow an out-of-balance criticism to side track us. When someone nails you with a harsh and destructive criticism (sometimes hard to sift through), shake it off and keep moving forward. It is usually a good practice to run the criticism by someone else to help determine whether or not it is valid.
9. Ignoring sound advice: “Don’t tell me what to do, I know what I am doing. I can handle this on my own.” This is stubbornness and pride personified. A leader taking this approach is insecure and should get ready for a failure. Find good sources of advice and listen.
10. Resting on laurels: “I have accomplished enough, my past speaks for itself. I can coast from here.” The past is gone and few people remember what you have accomplished. The victories of yesterday mean little today and even less tomorrow. When you approach the future while gazing in your rearview mirror, you are looking the wrong direction – backwards! And that is the direction you will go.
11. Gearing down without a replacement plan: “I am too busy to train my replacement. There is no one that I can train to do my job upon my departure.” This is a serious mistake that lots of leaders make. Great damage is done in organizations because they have to start from scratch when a key leader departs. Confident leaders set their organizations up for success. Look around you. I know you wear large shoes – but who could fill them once you move on?
12. Too little accountability: “I answer to no one, I am my own boss. What I do is my business and on one else’s.” A sure recipe for disaster! It doesn’t matter how much authority you have or how many people answer to you, you need accountability. The higher you climb, the farther the fall. Go ahead and establish relationships that keep you answerable. You’ll be much more secure that way.
13. Professional distance: “I can’t get too close to those who follow me. I can’t let them see that I am human. Never let them see you sweat!” While there is such a thing as too much personal information from leaders, a certain level of leadership transparency is necessary and beneficial. We must arrive at balance. If your followers do not see you as human, chances are, they see you as a machine – or an animal! Lighten up and be real.
There is a reason you are a leader. You are not afraid of self improvement and development. Maybe this simple list can help sharpen us a little today.