Servant Leadership

3 Ways to Avoid the Leadership Mistakes That Undermine Your Team

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My destination seemed easily within reach. I’d dropped off my rental car at the airport terminal. I was spending the night at an airport hotel because there weren’t any direct flights back to Denver that late in the evening.

I could see the hotel from the rental car lot. It wasn’t more than 500 yards away from where I was standing. It didn’t make sense to me to take the rental shuttle to the terminal then wait for the hotel shuttle to get to the hotel. It was right there. I started walking.

Bad idea. It was dark. Streets and sidewalks were icy and snow-packed. After 20 minutes of walking I came to a four lane main road with no crosswalks. I walked back to the rental car lot and waited - somewhat patiently - for the shuttle.

Related: 8 Leadership Mistakes That Others Made So You Don't Have To

We all make mistakes. Some, like this one. are little and only result in inconvenience. Sometimes they are big mistakes with greater impact. Leaders make mistakes, too. When they make big mistakes, their employees see them and feel the impact of them. The four most damaging mistakes leaders when managing thier team are:

  • Inconsistent communication.
  • Lack of clarity of strategy and goals.
  • Poor accountability.
  • Rewarding competition instead of cooperation.

These mistakes erode trust between and among leaders and team members. They reinforce an “I win, you lose” dynamic. They create perceptions of unfairness. Ultimately, they cause team members to apply less discretionary energy to customers and goals.

I don’t think leaders realize they are making these mistakes. They are moving at the “speed of light” and are doing the best that they can. What leaders must do, though, is to periodically slow down and examine how their team is operating, not just how it’s performing. Here’s how leaders can do exactly that. These three steps can help leaders avoid making mistakes, boost clarity and trust, and get their team on track to aligned performance.

1. Focus.

Leaders must formalize their team’s organizational constitution, outlining their team or company’s present day purpose, values and behaviors, strategies and goals. With these agreements clear, leaders must then demonstrate these behaviors, praise aligned behaviors in others and redirect misaligned behaviors promptly. They need to communicate these expectations in a variety of ways, regularly, and live them in every interaction.

2. Connect.

Leaders need to open communication channels with a variety of players in their team or company. Seek out truth tellers who will “tell it like it is” when things are harder than they need to be. Create informal focus groups to engage a wide range of players on a frequent basis. Proactively communicate how plans, decisions, and actions align with the team’s organizational constitution.

Related: Why Admitting Your Mistakes Will Make You a Better Leader

3. Serve.

Great leaders see their primary responsibility as servant leaders who provide the direction, connection and support to help team members thrive in their roles. Serving others means you take blame and give credit (not the other way around). You remove employee frustrations everywhere you can. You praise and encourage both effort and accomplishment. You lovingly hold people accountable for their commitments. You delegate authority and responsibility to talented, engaged team members.

When leaders stop and listen to team members about the health of their team’s culture, leaders can refine their behaviors, guide team practices, and enable aligned performance and sanity in their business.

Try these techniques. Your team will appreciate the clarity, validation, and communication you provide. You’re going to be at work, anyway. You may as well do the right thing!

Related: Correcting Leadership Communication Mishaps