15 Mistakes Successful Leaders Know to Avoid
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Much of what a business leader does can be boiled down to a handful of important skills. These include tackling workplace issues and problems, setting reasonably high expectations, and understanding how to motivate and manage people while effectively communicating with everyone.
Though there is no perfect formula for doing these tasks well, there are definitely practices you should avoid. The most successful leaders strive to develop a positive management style while avoiding negative leadership characteristics.
Use this list of “don’ts” to create your own best practices as a successful leader.
1. Think they know it all.
There is nothing worse than working for a boss who believes they know it all, and thinks everyone under them is there to do their bidding. The most successful leaders never assume they know more than the people they lead. They don't claim to be experts in everything. Instead, they leverage the skills and knowledge of their workers
They encourage their employees to contribute ideas. The best leaders know they must engage their employees and find ways for them to meaningfully contribute. They know that a team’s combined expertise and insight far outweighs any individual’s know-how.
2. Underestimate the importance of communication.
Many leaders fail to inspire their colleagues. This is largely because they lack good communication skills. They don’t effectively convey important messages. Or, worse, they say one thing in a meeting and something else in a company-wide email. The result is confusion and turmoil.
Teams won’t cohere if no one is on the same page. Great leaders are good communicators because they’re genuine when they correspond and connect with others. Successful leaders say what they mean and mean what they say. They take time to communicate clearly.
3. Uninterested in listening to others.
One major cause of negative emotions from employees is feeling that they aren’t being heard or that their opinions or ideas aren’t being considered. This happens when poor leaders don’t engage in active listening. They fail to follow up on concerns or follow through on promises they made. The result is a loss of employee confidence, trust and loyalty.
Successful leaders know how to listen with empathy. They’re always willing to answer questions, clarify issues and respond to concerns.
4. Micromanage and never allow employees to shine.
Poor leaders are often micromanagers, never fully trusting their employees to do their jobs without constant oversight. They don’t understand the strengths and skills of their team members, and they don’t allow employees to grow.
Good leaders take the time to assess the abilities and skills of each team member. They involve their staff in goal setting and creating clear objectives so each person understands his or her role in the team’s ultimate success.
5. Underestimate the importance of emotional intelligence.
Many weak leaders lack emotional intelligence. They fail to see the damage they do when they fly off the handle and let their emotions get the best of them.
Successful leaders have learned to control their emotions and remain calm during a crisis. They pay attention to employee morale and their staff’s mood. They know how to give praise, and encourage others when faced with a setback. They recognize the importance of creating a positive atmosphere where employees are motivated. Emotional intelligence works hand in hand with communication to help successful leaders find ways to resolve conflict.
6. Fail to give useful feedback.
Poor leaders tend to be stingy when giving accolades and positive feedback to others. They haven’t learned the fine art of giving constructive criticism in a way that acknowledges employees’ strengths while helping them improve weak areas.
Successful leaders know that everyone craves praise and recognition, and they take the time to generate useful and effective feedback. When done well and in a helpful manner, feedback can transform an average employee into a high-performing, exceptional worker.
7. Hold on to anger or resentment.
Leaders who harbor resentment create an oppressive work atmosphere where workers are afraid to take risks or speak candidly for fear of aggravating the boss. Successful leaders can tolerate mistakes and see blunders as learning opportunities.
They hear out dissenting points of view and listen to criticism without blowing up or becoming offended. Great leaders certainly feel disappointed when others let them down, but they understand that reconciliation and forgiveness are crucial to long-term success.
8. Lie, cheat and gossip.
A negligent manager can create a toxic environment where nasty habits like lying, cheating or gossiping can thrive. Strong leaders understand that integrity is foundational to success. They conduct themselves in a respectable and honest manner, recognizing that they serve as role models for their staff.
This includes not engaging in gossip. It’s one thing to hear out people’s concerns, but a good leader draws the line when someone begins to badmouth another person without justification or proof.
9. Expect perfectionism in themselves or others.
A bad leader believes that expecting perfectionism is a winning strategy for excellence. Successful leaders know that expecting a flawless performance every time can kill teamwork by holding employees to impossibly high standards.
Good leaders hold workers to high standards, but they recognize that problems are inevitable. They expect employees to keep learning and growing, and follow a simple work formula -- launch, tweak and improve. They know a product isn’t going to be foolproof on the first try, and that improvements are an ongoing part of business. Successful leaders stay connected and listen to their customers and team members. They work through mistakes and setbacks.
10. Avoid conflict.
Many leaders find it tempting to veer away from awkward and uncomfortable confrontation. Whether they mean to or not, their attitude minimizes the urgency of correcting mistakes.
Successful leaders accept that conflict is unavoidable and must be dealt with to keep it from festering. When performance or personality issues go unaddressed, they will only intensify over time. Successful leaders tackle problems head on. They know it's best to address them quickly, when the situation is fresh.
Related: How to Handle Confrontation at Work
11. Lack vision.
Dysfunctional leaders lack vision. They are unfocused and uninspired, and will fail to grow and progress in their leadership skills.
Vision is absolutely critical to a strong leader, and no leader is successful without it. Vision helps a leader set expectations and goals for the organization, and holds team members accountable for reaching those targets. Successful leaders help define their organization’s unique mission and move their business forward by finding ways to create greater value. As a leader, make sure you understand your organization’s strategies and goals.
12. Reactive instead of proactive.
Reactive leaders don’t plan ahead or anticipate problems. Their lack of forward thinking causes them to miss valuable opportunities. They react to situations as they occur, so they aren’t prepared to handle crises; nor do they embrace favorable circumstances to help them advance or progress.
Ultra-successful leaders know where they want to go, and they design their lives and their businesses to get them there. They prioritize what’s important and say no to things that don’t support their overarching goals.
13. Inflated ego and lack of humility.
Weak leaders use their position of power to inflate their ego and bolster their self-esteem. They are quick to point out other people’s shortcomings but are unable to recognize their own flaws.
Effective leaders solicit input from employees of different ranks. They go the extra mile to make others feel appreciated and recognized for their work. But most importantly, humble leaders are successful because they have an accurate perception of their strengths and weaknesses.
14. Disregard advice and mentorship.
Poor leaders rarely seek the advice of colleagues or see the value in mentorship -- either finding a mentor for themselves or being a mentor to others. They believe they have the answers and they don’t care to share their knowledge.
Smart leaders understand the importance of building a support system. Mentorship and seeking peer advice will help strong leaders gain insight into best practices and deal with day-to-day challenges and stresses. Successful leaders understand the importance of having multiple mentors to rely on, so they can gather differing points of view.
15. Treat people like machines.
Power-hungry leaders treat employees as though they are cogs in the machine; as though their only use is to provide profit for those at the top.
The most successful leaders focus on empowering their employees. They understand the benefits of servant leadership, in which those at the top focus on helping employees do their jobs to the best of their ability. These leaders seek collaboration and participation by the whole group. Servant leaders affirm their team’s strengths and potential, which leads to high performance and overall success.