I’d love to say that my leadership journey has been perfect and that ever since I stepped into my first leadership role, I was successful, but that would just be an out and out lie.
Not only have I made my fair share of mistakes, but I have probably also made enough to cover for several other people too, many times over.
Sure I got results the required results, but in leadership, while you might think the end justifies the means, it does lead to sustainable leadership practices, ones that make people want to work for you.
Here are seven mistakes that I confess to making which hampered my early leadership career, and almost cost me my job.
1. I believed I had all the answers
I believed there was a good reason that I had been put in charge and that was because I was better than everyone else. Now while this might have been true for the leadership role, (although I doubt it), it definitely wasn’t true for the many roles that reported into me.
That, however, didn’t stop me from having an opinion on everything and wanting to be involved in every single decision that needed to be made.
The downside of this was that it showed a lack of respect for the people in my teams, it also took away their desire to be accountable, as they were now only bit players in the decision-making process, which also undermined their commitment.
Now one of my favorite quotes comes from Ken Blanchard “none is as smart of all of us.”
It took me a while to learn this, and also that the role of the leader is to get the greatness out of their teams, not to put it into them.
People are so much more committed when they are involved and are more likely to take ownership if you delegate both the work and authority to them. It shows trust, which will, in turn, increase their trust in you.
2. I reacted, rather than responded
I have always been a passionate leader, driven by my emotions, and wearing heart on my sleeve.
I thought that this was good authentic leadership, people could see me for who I really was.
But when you let your emotions drive you, you can react too quickly to situations, and this can lead to mistakes, or even worse outbursts, which can damage your credibility.
Yes, you can always show good emotional intelligence by apologizing later, but the damage is done.
We get hired because of our IQ, our ability to get things done, but ultimately it’s our EQ our emotional intelligence, that will determine whether we will be a success over the long-term.
Leadership does require passion, but it also requires calmness, it demands that we control our emotions so that we respond rather than just react. When we respond, it allows us to be measured, to consider all the information available and come up with the right response, the best response for the situation, rather than just our first response.
Good EQ allows us to be consistent, which helps our teams predict how we will behave, rather than just spontaneously reacting which can lead to unpredictability, which can undermine a teams self-confidence.
3. I believed in my own PR
There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance.
One helps to build trust; the other destroys it.
Once I started to believe my own PR, I started to lean more towards arrogance which started me down a path that nearly ended in tears.
More than once I took on projects which were very risky, believing that I was capable of delivering anything, often ignoring sage advice of others who I saw as timid, or less capable than myself, which almost ended in disaster.
Failure can be quite humbling experience, it makes you feel mortal, and it also shows how dependent we are on others to be successful.
Being a leader is also about being a team player too. We rely on our teams to help deliver success, and often they have great insights which can help.
It took me a couple of years to understand this, but as the African proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
It doesn’t matter how good we think we are, no leader does it all on their own.
4. I focused on instant success
Achieving success is what makes you a great leader right. I was laser-focused on achieving success, being successful, and trying to achieve it as fast as possible. The challenge here is that success which is achieved quickly is often lost just as quickly.
I had to learn that leadership is a marathon, not a sprint, and that if you want to drive change and achieve sustainable results, then it often takes more time, and requires us to take the harder route.
5. I confused stubbornness with determination
I always believed that “Winners never quit, and quitters never win” and I prided myself on my tenacity, determination, and my will to win.
However, you’re bordering on stubbornness if your approach is failing, but you refuse to change it. You’re also flirting with insanity too because to do the same thing the same way and to expect different results is one definition of madness.
It’s good to be firm on your goals, but you need to be flexible in your approach, and if it’s not working, then you need to be prepared to change it.
6. I was a Master of Micro Management
When I first took on a management I found it hard to trust everyone to just do their job, part of this was because I hadn’t yet master engagement or getting buy-in into what we were doing.
But instead of focusing on fixing those deficiencies I chose the path of micromanagement, keeping a close eye on everyone, checking up every 15 minutes to see how they were doing, how they were progressing.
Micromanagement is one of the worst ways you can manage your teams because firstly people hate to be micromanaged. It’s not a good experience for them, and it’s also not very good for you because it limits your scope of control to the number of people you can directly manage.
I had to learn to trust my teams, to give them room to do their job, but also be on hand to provide support when they needed. Yo do have to review progress, but you need to give people the time to make progress, and to do the reviews from a position support, not one of micromanagement.
7. I didn’t play well with others
As my leadership started to improve and I learned a lot of lessons that helped me better inspire my teams and achieve results, I still had a blind spot that was stopping both me and my team from achieving our full potential.
I was 100 percent focused on my team, so much so, that I was constantly looking downwards, looking for ways to help my team, that I forgot that leadership is a 360-degree discipline. Not only do you have to have good relationships with your team, but you also need to foster good relationships with your peers, with their teams, and also with your boss.
This can often put a strain on things, because sometimes what is good for your team is not great for your boss or your peers, and vice versa. You have to get that balance right; you need to see the bigger picture, take a holistic view and do whats best for everyone, not just whats best for your team.
This transformation didn’t happen overnight, and the journey was often a painful one, not just for my teams, but also for me too.
Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes, and I am not afraid to admit to them and to share them in the hope that others can learn from them too so that they can steer their leadership away from the dark side, and become better leaders who achieve sustainable success.