Avoid these classic leadership mistakes

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Pay, prestige and the opportunity to serve all come with being a leader. Know what else does, too? Pressure. Lots of it. Most of it not good.

There’s pressure to perform, conform, make money, keep the boss happy and do more with less. The demands come from every direction in the organization -- up, down, across --as well as from within. We feel the pressure in discussions with the boss, at performance-review time and in interactions with our colleagues or direct reports.

Fearing the shame of failure, leaders find ways to deal with the pressure. Some coping methods can evolve into counterproductive practices that, over time, sabotage our performance and morale.

Pressure mistake No. 1: Having all the answers

People tend to look to the leader for solutions when problems arise. The leader feels pressure to have answers -- and gives them, every time. This “do-as-I-say” cycle eventually kills engagement and fuels egotism.

Inclusive leaders avoid the all-knowing trap by balancing giving answers with asking questions. Even if they know the answer, effective leaders ask questions to build their staff’s critical thinking skills and bring them into the solution. They involve.

Pressure mistake No. 2: Not admitting to being wrong

Academia, business and culture reward us for being right. Admitting to messing up, on the other hand, can bring criticism, which marks us as failures.

Well-rounded leaders recognize that no one gets it right 100% of the time and that being a true leader involves accepting responsibility and blame, no matter how uncomfortable or unflattering. Accountable leaders refuse to fall back on the lame acknowledgment that “mistakes were made.” They own up.

Pressure mistake No. 3: Settling for the quick fix

The perceived need for a speedy resolution tempts leaders to fix symptoms and ignore root causes. The quick-fix approach may appease the big bosses who demand a solution now, but it often creates bigger problems down the road. Serving the urgent at the expense of the important rarely turns out well.

Effective leaders steer clear of the quick-fix approach. They take the time to ask “the five whys” to identify root causes and resolve problems once and for all. They check it out.

Pressure mistake No. 4: Avoiding constructive feedback

It’s the rare person (right?) who wholeheartedly embraces being the cantankerous old coot who happily points out every flaw, real or perceived. More common are leaders who mistake the act of disagreeing with being disagreeable. Out of a fear of not being liked, they avoid giving feedback or pushing back on really bad idea. They confuse nonproductive conflict with productive conflict.

Legitimate leaders recognize that conflict is inevitable and not something negative to be ignored or conquered. Instead, they see differences as opportunities to be addressed together through trust, compassion and acceptance. They engage.

Pressure mistake No. 5: Not knowing when to quit

The perils of quitting too soon are easy to recognize. That awareness is often missing, though, in recognizing that the time to let go happened long ago. Quitting a job, letting a poor performer go or pulling the plug on a project riddled with problems may feel like negative actions given all the time, effort and money that have been invested. They aren’t.

Effective leaders make a conscious effort to not let a fear of loss get in the way of potential gains. Calling it quits doesn’t mean conviction, character or commitment are lacking. Rather, knowing when to quit signals the presence of courage and smarts. They let go.

Pressure can prompt us to turn a strength -- like being knowledgeable, persevering or quickly solving problems -- into a weakness. Being good at these things probably got you the leadership role. Be a wise leader and don’t let an overused strength become the reason you fail.

 

Jane Perdue, executive director of the consulting firm The Jane Group and former Fortune 500 company executive, consults, speaks, and writes about leadership, power, inclusion and gender bias. She loves TED talks, kindness, paradox, chocolate, shoes and short bios.

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