Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Top 5 Mistakes Leaders Make

Guest post by Great Leadership regular contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

The Top 5 Leadership Mistakes: which one would your team members say you make?

Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of leaders many who have displayed specific leadership shortfalls, that when improved, have had a positive impact on the effectiveness and profitability of the organization. Both new and experienced manager/leaders can make these top five mistakes; which one is your Achilles heel? And what is your plan to improve?

1. Focusing on the Urgent and not the Important

How much time are you spending on activities that lead to your goals versus those that are urgent and unexpected? You would be surprised how many leaders fall into this trap. And it is a trap. In fact, I have worked with some leaders who get their “energy” from working in crisis mode.

The key is to set aside time on the calendar that is only for the important activities, and have the activities clearly prioritized so that when an urgent item is screaming at you, you can logically decide what important task can be set aside.

We all have crises, yet more often than not we move right into crisis mode before thinking through what can be moved off our plate of “importants”. Create a process that works for you in which you can smoothly move from the urgent and then back to the important. Don’t get stuck in the urgent.

2. Lack of Consistent Communication

As far as I can tell, there is no such thing as over communication in the work place. If I had a nickel for every time a leader said to me “I told the company our (project, goal, etc), yet two weeks later they have totally forgotten the conversation”, I’d be a very wealthy person.

In this age of information overload, employees have a lot to file away and process. Communications should be implemented frequently and consistently using a variety of methods since people have different learning styles. With the huge menu of communication technologies available to companies, messages should be delivered in person, electronically in written, audio, and video, as well as the old fashioned way, printed hard copy. For more on this topic from Harvard Business Review http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6629.html

3. Ineffective Feedback

This is a result of providing delayed and unclear feedback. It often starts by ignoring the “small stuff” with the hope that the behavior won’t happen again. More often than not, the behavior is repeated, and becomes tolerated. And it can lead to conflict avoidance by a manager.

The best time to provide feedback is immediately after the behavior is observed. Be clear about what you observed, how it impacted you, and ask for ideas from your employee about how they could approach it in the future. And then get their commitment to make the change. This process focuses more on the future as the past can’t be changed, only the future. For more thoughts on this visit http://www.executivevelocityblog.com/feedback-is-not-a-help/

And for innovative ideas on moving away from the traditional performance review feedback, read an article from Daniel Pink: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/8113600/Think-Tank-Fix-the-workplace-not-the-workers.html.

4. Failing to Define Clear Goals

Employees need to understand how they will be measured and evaluated. Defining clear goals provides a roadmap for the employee. And more importantly, when an employee is part of her goal setting process, she has more ownership in successfully attaining her goals. Without goals, employees will not meet your performance expectations because they don’t know what they are.

For additional information on creating clear goals visit http://www.executive-velocity.com/free-tools/

5. Misunderstanding Motivation

After reading, Daniel Pink’s recent book Drive, I am convinced that leaders really need to rethink how they operate and create an environment that provides the foundation for employees to be intrinsically motivated. Too often managers think that changing the extrinsic motivators will lead to a change in behavior, and they can. The problem is that the change is not long term and sustainable.

Once you have met an employee’s baseline extrinsic motivators, salary and benefits, you should focus on creating a foundation that encourages, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. As Pink describes in his book, all humans are driven by these three attributes.

Autonomy is all about control of tasks, time, technique, and team. Mastery is providing an opportunity to get very good at something and to continue the process and understanding that you will never be perfect. It is the pursuit of perfection that motivates. And finally purpose, working for some greater good and not just profit. Profit provides a means for a company’s purpose. It is this final attribute that is found more often in smaller, entrepreneurial companies who are lead by younger leaders.

So which of these leadership mistakes would your team members say you exhibit? And what is your plan of action to develop a way of avoiding these mistakes in the future?

Beth Armknecht Miller, of Atlanta, Georgia, is Founder and President of Executive Velocity, a leadership development advisory firm accelerating the leadership success of CEOs and business leaders. She is also a Vistage Chair and Executive Coach. She is certified in Myers Briggs and Hogan leadership assessment tools and is a Certified Managerial Coach by Kennesaw State University. Visit http://www.executive-velocity.com/ or http://executivevelocityblog.com/ or follow her on twitter at SrExecAdvisor.

6 comments:

Ashok Vaishnav said...

By and large any practcing leader will have made these maistakes, either severally or collectively, in the course of the career.
From my limited experience, if I would apply Pareto Principle,#5 and #1 [may be in that order, too] are omnipresent.
There are many ways to address the fallibility for #1, but # 5 does require not only knowledge and experience but know-how ,too. And that complicates the already complex issue.

Gordon Robb said...

For me, even Leaders who are committed to improving, fail because of the first one. Urgency rules everyone. Even if there has been some really effective discussion to understand what is important, too few people stop and ask how important things are before taking them on.

Great post and very timely for what I'm doing with my clients.

team influence said...

Beth-

Thanks for the article... I would argue that #2 and #5 are both important and very closely related.
If leaders do not recognize and manage team personalities differently, there are bound to be issues that arise.

Mary Legakis said...

Well articulated, though the limitation to a top 5 leaves out one mistake that most leaders make and most consultants and coaches underestimate: Consensus to action plans is as important as consensus to goals. Many leaders, if they have set goals, leave it to their individual team members to figure out how to get the bits and pieces done. I find that much value comes when a team works together to figure out how to get it done, assign responsibility for key activities, timelines, and get clear on roles and responsibilities.

Beth Armknecht Miller said...

Mary, great addition to the top 5. Often leaders think they have consensus, yet don't. I have found that asking the right questions are key to gaining consensus as well as being a great observer.

Too many leaders ask the easy questions..."does everyone agree?" "any questions/" versus questions that will make team members really think and participate. Powerful questions get to underlying feelings and concerns. "what one thing do you see that could happen that may keep us from meeting our timeline?" or " this project plan is complex, how can we simplify this project and still get the same results?"

Nabeela Riduan said...

Hi Beth,

Great article I must say.
In fact, I am writing to feature this article in our Guild of HR e-Mag which is published online monthly.

Kindly email me (nabeela.riduan@hr-republic.org) if you’re keen for us to take this forward.
Thanks!

Regards,
Nabeela Riduan
HR Republic
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia