Ask any learning professional “What common mistakes do bad leaders make?” and it won’t take long until you’re hearing about poor listening, constant criticism, micromanaging, and an autocratic management style. There are infinite ways to be a terrible boss.
Now ask that same learning professional a second question: “What common mistakes do good leaders make?”
That’s exactly the question that was asked of a network of executive coaches affiliated with The Ken Blanchard Companies. More than 40 coaches from around the world responded.
And while their answers varied depending on their experience and the different cultures they worked in, three common themes emerged. The biggest mistakes good leaders make are:
- An over-focus on the people aspect of the business at the expense of operational necessities
- Trying to solve all of the problems of their people or doing the work themselves
- Neglecting personal growth
An over-focus on the people aspect. In describing behaviors they had seen in their work with executives, the coaches shared several examples. These typically included some form of avoiding hard conversations that need to occur—either by not setting clear expectations or steering clear of difficult feedback. The net result of this conflict-avoiding behavior is a culture that accepts mediocre performance. The key, according to the coaches, is maintaining the correct balance between meeting the needs of people and those of the organization.
Trying to solve all of the problems of their people. Mary Ellen Sailer, a coach who participated in the survey, points out that leaders have a hard time letting go of their identity of being the expert. As she explains, “The leader is often the leader because they are the expert. They are accustomed to being the smartest person in the room. It can be a real challenge to control a lifelong habit of being the solver of all problems.”
Unfortunately, this approach deprives direct reports of the opportunity to grow. It also inadvertently sends a message that the leader doesn’t trust people to solve their own problems. The coaches suggest leaders find moments when they can let their people figure things out for themselves—even if they do it a little differently from the way the leader might. It keeps things off the leader’s plate and provides employees with often welcome challenges.
Neglecting personal growth. The third mistake the coaches identified was how easy it is for smart, caring leaders to forgo their own development. When leaders put their own growth on the back burner, it decreases personal engagement and effectiveness and serves as a poor role model for others. This can take many forms, including behaviors where the leader stops building and nurturing relationships in the organization, stops paying attention to what is going on politically in the organization and in the industry, loses objectivity and focus by getting too much in the weeds of day-to-day business, or loses sight of their own needs. Any of these well-intentioned sacrifices can show up later as health problems or stress-related behaviors.
A leader who stops growing unintentionally decreases their value to the organization and its people. Giving up the time to recharge and create some white space in their schedules can result in tunnel vision, lack of innovation, and poor problem solving skills.
Helping Others Begins by Helping Yourself
Good leaders can be harder to help than bad leaders. When using standard measures, they can seem to be doing everything right. They are generally self aware and focused on meeting the needs of their people, and they generally have a successful track record. But that doesn’t mean they are as effective as they could be. With a little bit of extra help, by paying special attention to their unique problems, learning professionals can help good leaders continue to grow and build individual, team, and organization competency.
About the Author
Madeleine Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 130 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.