Leader's Insight: Leaders' Top Three Mistakes

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Leader's Insight: Leaders' Top Three Mistakes

Post by Admin on Mon Mar 10, 2008 7:39 pm

Leader's Insight: Leaders' Top Three Mistakes

Compare your list with this one.

by Clark Cothern, guest columnist



The first big mistake I made as a leader was to fail to ask what mistakes I was making.

I was curious what Ron Potter, my friend and the president of Team Leadership Culture, would say are the top three mistakes most leaders make. After all, he has spent the last twelve years of his professional life consulting with top leaders of national and international organizations helping them recognize and correct their mistakes.



1. Managing instead of leading.

Ron didn't even have to think about the first mistake. "Managing has more to do with directing day-to-day tasks, whereas leading has more to do with casting a vision, goal setting, and motivation," he said.

When a leader spends more time managing than leading, morale suffers among the troops. Most people would prefer a goal to shoot for and some freedom to figure out how to reach that goal. "We all crave at least a partial sense of control," Ron said.

In a study several years ago, two teams of leaders were given a difficult problem to solve. The complex problem involved mental gymnastics, difficult decisions, and intense concentration. Both teams participated in the project in a room where distracting sounds were piped in through speakers. The music, noise, and voices were enough to drive you to distraction. Which, of course, was the point.

Team A couldn't do anything about the distracting sounds. They just had to put up with them. Team B was told that by pushing a button they could silence the distractions for five minutes. The only catch was that they could only use the button once each hour. Each team was then scored on various phases of their group task.

Not too surprisingly, Team B consistently outscored Team A. The kicker is, Team B never pushed the button. Team B at least thought they had control over their environment. Just knowing that they had a little freedom within their boundaries boosted their confidence level.

When leaders micromanage, they take away that sense of control vital to team dynamics and problem-solving. Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower summed this up when he said, "Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all."



2. Mistaking individual loyalty for team building.
Have you seen that little desk toy that has several steel balls hanging from a crossbeam, all in a row? If you pull one of the balls away from the others and let it go, when it strikes the row of spheres the one on the opposite end swings away from the rest in direct response to the force of the first ball. It's called "Newton's Cradle."

The next mistake is a bit more subtle and difficult to detect. Ron calls it, "The Newton's Cradle approach to leadership."

Let's say that you are the person at the top of the leadership chain in your organization. You are the crossbeam. Those steel spheres hanging beneath the crossbeam are the people who work closely with you. The plastic connectors are the individual relationships you make with those people.

You, the leader, pull one of your team members away from the others and get him pumped up about a change that needs to be made. That's like pulling one of the steel balls and holding it there. Then when you let him go, you expect him to return to the rest of the team, where they will all function with superb team dynamics, solving the current problems, achieving team goals, and making changes.

Ron explained what really happens. "The leader lets that team member go, and he just bangs against the other team member closest to him, and that one bangs quickly into the team member next to him, and so on. So all that really happens is that this one team member bangs into the others, and they swing back and forth, bumping into each other."

We shouldn't neglect the individual relationships with those who work closely with us. We also can't miss the important steps necessary to putting those people together in team situations where they learn what it means to work together.



3. Failing to apply what motivates us.

"What motivates you?" Ron asked. "The ability to create? The freedom to apply what you know in order to solve problems? The thrill of a new challenge? Ask most leaders what motivates them and those items will surface. But when we get our jobs down to a science and there are no new challenges, we get bored or lose interest."

A leader may know what motivates him, but he forgets that the same things motivate those who work for him.

We want our people to be competent so that everything always runs smoothly. But when we lock people into the routine of sameness, we wind up killing their motivation. When we stretch people into new areas of challenges, we know they are going to make mistakes. But when we keep them "safe," we take the motivational wind out of their sails.

It means we have to risk other people's failure. It means we have to bite our lips and let some people toddle out into the unknown world. Yet they'll thank you for allowing them to tackle a new challenge, even if they stumble a few times.

Like a parent who prays harder when the teenager begins to drive, a leader must accept that new challenges are frightening to us but freeing to others.

Hearing this assessment of the top three mistakes leaders make, I recalled my first big mistake in leadership: failure to ask where I was making mistakes.

I need to discover where I am guilty of managing more than leading. I need to build into my leadership training calendar specific times to work on team building. And I need to motivate my leadership team by allowing them to tackle new challenges. Most of all, I need to remain courageous enough to keep asking what mistakes I'm making.

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