8 Costly Leadership Mistakes You Must Avoid

 Photo by Jamie Street on  Unsplash

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

I often share the stories of successful turnarounds I have been involved in throughout my career in hopes of having others reapply the proven methods and accelerate the rate of their own progress. I am also fully aware that these stories sometimes make it sound like I always knew what to do and that I always took the right steps toward achieving my goals. Needless to say, as I try to often mention, that wasn’t the case at all. The journeys that have a happy ending hardly ever feel like that along the way, and my journey is no exception to this rule. Indeed, in my case, for every one thing my team and I did right, there were five things we got wrong and needed to fix, and in most cases, it was my fault too.

So, in today’s post, I’d like to share some of the raw and unfiltered truths about the mistakes I made in my career and the valuable lessons I learned. Thankfully, I learned a few of these lessons early in my career, but some of them came 10-15 years after the fact, some even in the midst of turnarounds that eventually resulted in success stories with very positive outcomes.

My intention in sharing these mistakes and lessons is two-fold. First, I hope to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made, and second, I hope you will see that even someone like me, who made so many mistakes along the way ended up experiencing a significant amount success and fulfillment. The moral of the story is that if I can do it, so can you, no matter what you are dealing with.

Mistake #1: I didn’t set priorities!
Almost 20 years into a somewhat successful career, I came across a situation where I was surrounded with opportunities for improvement on every front in the operation I was leading. My greatest contribution was to put all the priorities on a visual and assign names to them! I was so proud of my visual because it made it very clear that we had 30+ different improvements going on at the same time and who was supposed to lead each one. The trouble was that most of them impacted and required the involvement of the same people in the operation, and those people were being pulled in different directions and being overworked as a result. So, I was not only not adding any value, but further exacerbating the issue by endorsing the idea that we were going to work on everything at the same time. Every time I think of that visual, it makes me cringe!
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders help their team set priorities.

Mistake #2: I didn’t follow through!
I can think of countless times when I made commitments and did what I needed to do to get something started, but failed to put the structure in place to make sure that things got done as they were supposed to. Instead, I moved on to the next shiny thing and let others deal with the repetitive execution work without any mechanism to make sure it got done. This was far from effective delegation. It was self-righteous abdication.
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders delegate effectively and put a structure of integrity in place to ensure things don’t fall through the cracks.

Mistake #3: I did what I was good at, whether the organization needed or not.
A few years into my career, having discovered what I was good at, I was in the mode of doing what had worked for me in the past, and if it didn’t work, I did more of it instead of changing tactics. For months, while my operation was delivering terrible results, I was cheering people on and coaching them, as I had always done, while neglecting the tangible solutions that needed to be put into place. It took what probably felt to them like forever for me to get that they needed a different kind of leadership from me in that situation.
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders adapt their style to the situation at hand and practice the leadership style that best serves the organization.

Mistake #4: I ignored networking.
For years, I viewed networking as pointless and futile. I put my head down and did my job as opposed to looking for and seizing opportunities to establish partnerships with my peers and other resources. I associated networking with “sucking up” or with “politics” and felt I shouldn’t have to do it to succeed. But then, I would get frustrated when I wanted to gain support for something I was responsible for and no one was willing to back me up. This, in turn, limited my ability to influence others and achieve progress towards common goals that benefitted the organization and its people.
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders establish productive partnerships and look for ways to contribute to and solicit the support of others.

Mistake #5: I talked myself out of taking action when I knew deep down I should be. 
Whether it was giving some tough feedback or taking a step that I considered to be risky, I played it safe and found some justification for not taking action. My personal and professional development suffered because I kept wimping out of doing the right thing!
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders are unreasonable; they acknowledge their reasons for not being in action and get in action anyway.

Mistake #6: I tried to please my boss, even if it meant I would compromise who I was and what I brought to the party.
I have been blessed with several great bosses, but I also had a few who were more interested in turning me into a mini version of themselves than helping me be the best version of myself. Before I knew better, I was trying to prove to these bosses that I could be who they wanted me to be. My experience was that I failed at being like them and I also lost touch with my own gifts.
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders exercise flexibility in working with others but not at the expense of trying to be something or someone they are not.

Mistake #7: I told people what they wanted to hear.
I used my gift of empathy and my ability to see the world through other people’s eyes as an excuse to tell them what they wanted to hear, rather than what they needed to hear. People loved to talk to me to vent and feel better about their situation, but they weren’t stretched to make meaningful change happen.
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders listen and empathize and provide “spicy coaching,” which may not always be what the person wants to hear but is often what is needed to make a difference for them.

Mistake #8: I expected extraordinary career progression for ordinary performance.
On a couple of occasions in my career, I was frustrated because I was consistently being told I was doing a great job but not being considered for a promotion. I blamed it on politics and everything else but myself. The truth was that it was my responsibility to deliver and perform in a way that my bosses had no choice but to promote me. Similarly, if I was given the opportunity to either deliver extraordinary performance or be given a better title, it was my responsibility to choose which was more important and accept the consequences for doing so.
Lesson learned: Transformative Leaders get clear on what extraordinary performance looks like and they deliver, and they accept the consequences of sometimes putting the people and the organization before their career advancement.

You don’t have to be perfect or do everything perfectly to deliver great results and create an extraordinary culture. Just as I learned theses lessons and many more in the “school of hard knocks,” you too can turn your setbacks into life lessons that you can use to catapult your team and yourself to the next level of performance and fulfillment.


About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

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