The Most Common Leadership Mistakes to Avoid

Leadership is about bringing people together in teams to effectively multiply individual efforts by more than the number of team members. 1+1+1+1=6. In the most effective teams, it even can equal 16, or 160. In leaders’ efforts to help their teams produce more, they must avoid some common leadership mistakes. Read on to learn more about those common leadership mistakes and how to avoid them.
To perform well, your team should be comfortable – credit Austin Distel on

Introduction to Leadership

Leadership is what causes teams to accomplish more than the sum of what the team members could accomplish independently. A very effective team with an inspiring leader can sometimes multiply results many times over what the individual members could produce working alone.

Leaders who enable their teams to these levels of performance employ skills and techniques carefully designed to encourage and inspire each of their team members to deliver the best work they’re capable of and support each other and the organization in a productive enterprise.

To accomplish this harmonious atmosphere, effective leaders must avoid a few pitfalls.

Why Do You Need to Know These Mistakes?

Depending on your natural tendencies, you may be prone to make some of these mistakes. We’ll discuss how you can avoid them.

One of the most common mistakes is destructive criticism. Negative criticism is simply telling people what they did wrong. Some leadership experts have suggested that negative criticism, especially when penalties accompany it, has about the same effect on a person as taking a hammer to a malfunctioning machine. Neither one is likely to improve performance.

To avoid falling into that trap myself, I’ll look at each of these mistakes in the light of how to avoid the error by employing a more effective strategy.

Here are Some of the Common Leadership Mistakes

  1. Not Establishing Relationships With People

One of a human being’s strongest desires is to be recognized. The best way to help people feel recognized is to know them. Know their families, Know what’s important to them, in their private lives as well as their professional lives. Conjure up ways to support them in their important endeavors, at work and away from work. 

One of the simplest ways to demonstrate that you honor a person as an individual is to address them often by name and smile when you do it.

Avoid this common leadership mistake by investing time in knowing, really knowing, each team member.

  1. Being Unavailable and Inaccessible

There’s a fine line between under-managing and over-managing. 

You must leave team members to accomplish their assigned tasks their way, focusing on results rather than methods. Nonetheless, hand-off doesn’t mean being absent or difficult to reach. Your team members may well have questions about details of their assignments. They may even ask about sources of resources inside or outside the company.

Be open to conversations – credit LinkedIn Sales Solutions on

Being available for discussions about task-related or even personal issues is part of your job as a leader. It’s all part of listening effectively, and effective listening will improve every endeavor you undertake in life.

Avoid this common leadership mistake by trusting team members to do their work while at the same time being readily available to discuss it,

  1. Not Encouraging Talent Development

Productive people like to improve themselves. Few people are happy in a “rut.” One of the earliest personal development coaches, Earl Nightingale, pointed out that a rut is just a “grave with the ends kicked out.”

So keep in mind that, however well a person is performing where they are, and especially if they show signs of interest in more or different responsibilities, support people in their efforts to grow. They’ll serve you, themselves and their future endeavors better 

Avoid this common leadership mistake by offering opportunities for education and training. Assuming you’ve taken the earlier suggestion about being accessible, your best talents will come to you asking for these opportunities.

  1. Failing to Offer Performance Feedback

People always like to know how they measure up. They can do this themselves to some degree by setting their personal goals, perhaps in conference with you, and tracking their performance toward those goals. Nonetheless, your feedback about their progress and quality of performance in your eyes and those of the organization is a great motivator. 

Even if some of their performance is less than you’d like, explaining that to them and  offering support for their improvement is a great way to let them know they’re important and recognized, as we discussed in point #1. 

Avoid this common mistake leaders make by taking time to let people know where they stand.

  1. Not Recognizing and Responding to Emotions

People have one of two kinds of motivation. One is to avoid something they view as negative, uncomfortable or dangerous. The other is to seek something they view as positive, comforting, and enjoyable.

Part of your responsibility as a leader is to recognize these drivers, help your team members face and overcome their fears, and support them in the positive aspects of their work and lives.

The Good Funeral Guide on

If they’re facing a loss, such as a death of a loved one, a divorce, or other trauma in their lives, your genuine demonstration of caring means a lot to them. Whatever active help you can offer, such as time off to deal with their issue, will be greatly appreciated. If they’ve suffered a major disappointment in their work, you can support them in handling that.  Negatives and fear of them are more potent drivers of emotions and behavior than enjoyment of positive events and their anticipation.

Nonetheless, if they’re celebrating a positive event, such as a significant work success, or a new child or marriage, your sharing of their joy in that event tells them they’re important to you.

Avoid this common leadership mistake by taking and demonstrating a genuine interest in your team members’ emotional well-being. Again, this relates to point #1. Support in times of disappointment is especially important.

  1. Resisting Change

Business is constantly evolving. In today’s fast-paced world, a thriving enterprise can quickly become a dinosaur if it doesn’t change with the times, markets, technology, regulation and other environmental effects. Think of how many once-vibrant businesses have gone the way of buggy whip manufacturers.

Avoid this common leadership mistake by staying abreast of developments and adapting to the changes in your industry. Taking action to lead change is even better when you can identify and bet on a new direction before your competition sees it coming.

  1. Being Risk-Averse, and Supporting Risk-Averse Thinking

Most people, unless they’ve trained themselves to recognize the value in taking calculated risks and overcome the fear they naturally feel, are risk-averse. See point #5 above.

With that said, those who fail more succeed more. Stories supporting this concept abound. Famously, Thomas Edison found thousands of ways not to make an electric current produce light before he hit on the right answer. Wayne Gretsky, one of professional hockey’s all-time greats, missed more shots than most players, yet he was one of the highest-scoring players in hockey. Gretsky said, “Every shot you don’t take is a guaranteed miss.”

As a leader, you must encourage others to take risks, not foolish ones, but calculated ones. Make it clear to your team that a mistake or misjudgment at a new and innovative method is a learning opportunity. The only inexcusable mistake is a repeated one or one that was demonstrably a dangerous bet of the whole “farm” with odds heavily against it.

Avoid this common mistake leaders make by supporting people to take calculated risks and letting them know they haven’t failed when they make a mistake. Timid and cautious people especially need your support in this.

You’re sure to miss if you don’t shoot – credit Markus Spiske on
  1. Misunderstanding Motivation

Productive people with active minds are driven more by “intrinsic motivators” like interesting challenges, support from their peers and leaders, and a feeling of belonging than by “extrinsic motivators” like pay increases, nice offices, and health insurance. The extrinsic factors may serve well to attract new talent, but those on the team will respond more positively to the intrinsic motivators and perform more enthusiastically.

Avoid this common leadership mistake by thoughtfully heeding all of the suggestions we’ve discussed. Nothing wrong with paying people well, but understand that compensation alone is not the strongest motivator.

  1. Managing Activities Instead of Leading People

People want to be treated as individual personalities rather than driven like a machine. 

Leadership includes a need for assigning tasks, managing budgets and resources, etc. While you’re managing those things, remember that people need to be led, not managed.

To avoid this common mistake leaders make, I again refer you to all the foregoing suggestions. 

  1. Micro-Managing

This mistake may be the granddaddy of common leadership mistakes.

People must feel that you trust them to do their work. Be sure they understand the desired result and then get out of the way. Be available for questions or discussion of the task, but be sure they feel entrusted with it.

Avoid this common leadership mistake by leaving people alone to do their work, not “standing over their shoulder” and not doing their work for them, but being available to offer support and assistance when they need it.

As I’ve pointed out in several of these points, many are interrelated. If you miss the mark in any of these areas, you’re probably missing others. If you heed those suggestions, you’re leading effectively.

A simple general reminder for leadership is:

“We manage things. We lead people.” When we try to manage people, we’re ”pushing a rope.” – not very effective!

Other resources on similar topics are here and here.

Note: Archived issues of The Unity Community are available here. Search that page for keywords representing your particular interest. Most articles offer suggestions for ways of improving business and personal relationships. Keep in mind that business is done by…people. Every business concern is essentially an inter-personal concern. 

A “Shot in the Arm” Every Day!

Eric Lofholm, my friend, mentor and sales coach, hosts a 15-minute motivational call every business day.  The call is at 7:45 AM Pacific time. Register for it here. You’ll find instructions on how to join the call on Facebook, Zoom, by phone, or in a recording you can access on your schedule. 

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