Last year, I conducted an independent workplace survey on LinkedIn and received hundreds of responses to the question: “What is the ONE mistake leaders make more frequently than others?” It obviously struck a chord, as the sentiments of employees across the globe came streaming in, many of them feeling distressed and disengaged.
I am revealing my top findings from this survey, broken down by the eight most common themes. In essence, these are the eight biggest mistakes leaders make that suck the life out of their teams.
Really, no surprise here. Leaders who dominate people, decisions, and processes, lead by fear, and lack vision make this the No.1 mistake, micromanaging ultimately derails your team’s motivation and creativity.
2). Leading from a position of power or ego.
As it has always been, hubris is the cause of much conflict and grief. As one respondent succinctly puts it:
“Intellectual arrogance is like a termite to some leaders and networks.”
Others suggest that know-it-all who think they have the best ideas and information, and use it to wield power or control, destroy morale.
Some respondents express disdain over leaders unfit to lead, and blame the hiring of decision makers who place such leaders in those positions.
The general feeling here points to a lack of humility, not able to own being wrong, and not handling being wrong well. Even science agrees there’s one type of hubris (pride) leaders should avoid to achieve success and happiness.
3). Not listening to employees
One respondent puts it this way:
“It is not the inability to listen but the inability to ‘hear’ what their team [members] are saying to them.”
The lack of active and respectful listening, and two-way communication — sending without receiving — is a clear shortcoming for many. I have written about how this type of “authentic listening” may be the most underutilized and underdeveloped leadership skill you will find in entrepreneurs.
4). Not valuing followers.
This mistake points to the overarching theme of leaders dismissing the value of their people. They either don’t care, don’t know how to care, or stopped caring. In essence, it’s the leader who thinks anyone is replaceable, and sees employees as “cogs on a wheel” rather than “worthy colleagues” to be treated like business partners in producing excellence.
Quite a few respondents offer great advice to leaders who don’t grasp how to properly value employees. Two that stand out for me are:
- Invest in employees with development and mentoring opportunities.
- Identify each person’s unique skills and strengths, and use them where they are best suited for business outcomes.
5). Failing to grow themselves as leaders.
One collective sentiment from the study is that certain leaders, at whatever level, may have self-entitlement issues about growing and developing themselves.
Upper management may invest heavily in leadership development for middle and lower management, yet be reluctant to get the same level of training. This despite the fact that leadership issues at the senior level are just as frequent, often causing friction, strain and turnover down the ranks.
Some examples of behavior that cry out for executive-level leadership development:
- Low self-awareness — not knowing oneself.
- Communication issues, lacking in two-way feedback.
- Ego: having all the answers and not soliciting input.
Notice the correlation between mistake No. 2 (ego-driven leaders) and leaders who want to push the responsibility for leadership development down to lower ranks.
6). Lacking boundaries.
Some leaders forget to recognize professional boundaries. The moment a leader starts trying to “buddy up” with subordinates, the chain of command begins to disintegrate and boundaries become blurred.
Leaders can compromise their own integrity by becoming too friendly with subordinates. A healthy mutual respect should be the goal of bother superiors and subordinates. Approachability is key, but not at the expense of professionalism.
7). Not providing or receiving feedback.
Since employees are the ones most intimately acquainted to how things are going on in the trenches — with customers, processes, etc. — it behooves leaders to gain their tribe’s trust by coming to them first for input, buy-in, advice, and strategy.
This fosters a culture of trust, questioning and creativity, where followers feel safe enough to contribute ideas and share concerns that have value and can help resolve situations.
In the survey, respondents cite these common “allergic reactions” to feedback among leaders:
- Getting defensive when receiving feedback.
- Soliciting “bogus feedback.”
- Not asking questions when receiving feedback (a sort of emotional “shutdown” stemming from an ego position).
- Reacting to feedback by reverting to expertise and knowledge — giving answers to every question and issue.
For leaders who do give feedback to employees, these are common leader habits cited as being unproductive:
- Providing feedback that isn’t actionable or doesn’t help followers develop.
- Assuming the absence of feedback means everything is OK. A sort of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
- Thinking they know what followers want/need without asking them. Usually, this involves a lot of projection.
8). Not sharing leadership.
The concept of sharing leadership and empowering your tribe to make their own decisions is not new, but it’s gaining momentum thanks to books like Turn the Ship Around, by David Marquet.
It makes sense for leaders to set the stage for teams to operate this way because, on the frontlines, workers have more knowledge of the subject matter than leaders do. As one respondent puts it:
“Leaders fail to tap into frontline intelligence. Involve those who will be affected by the implementation by enlisting their energy and insights, or be left with people asking ‘What were they thinking when they rolled this out.'”
In the end, we don’t need to demonize the leaders who are the subject of many of these responses; they are humans too, and not out to deliberately destroy the lives of their followers. They should be treated with grace, and also empowered to succeed with the proper development.
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