Top 10 New-to-Leadership Mistakes (& How to Avoid Them)


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Corner-Office Confidential: Avoid These Ten Common New-to-Leadership Mistakes

HandshakeLeadership skills are so essential in today’s workforce, but many new leaders lack fundamental skills. Those who are interested in a degree program that caters to new leaders might consider a masters degree in organizational leadership from an accredited university.

Accepting a new leadership role is cause for celebration—your hard work and dedication has finally been recognized. The party will be short-lived, however. Once ensconced in your new role, you may find yourself asking questions like, “What is leadership?” and “How do I lead?” If you expect instant authority, peer respect and employee trust to be waiting for you in your new corner office, you’re going to be disappointed. Those things must be earned.

Get Ahead of the Learning Curve

Many newly minted leaders are their own worst enemies. It’s easy to second-guess yourself or focus on the wrong things as you learn how to be a leader. Here is a list of 10 common leadership mistakes new leaders often make and some advice about how to avoid them.

Ten New-Leader Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

1. Speaking When You Should Listen

It’s tempting to want to make yourself heard during your first days and weeks in your new leadership position, but smart leaders listen before they speak. Ask questions about the business, your team and challenges your department is facing. Learn the business if you’re new to the industry. Ask, “Why?” a lot. Not only will becoming more informed raise your esteem in subordinates’ and superiors’ eyes, it will also ensure that when you do speak, you don’t embarrass yourself by saying something ignorant.

2. Failing to Delegate

Obviously, you were a top-performing employee before you became management. It’s extremely tempting to just shoulder your team’s workload yourself, working under the assumption that you could do it faster and better than your subordinates. Not only will that result in an idle, dispirited workforce, it will also rob you of the opportunity to focus on your managerial duties. A study by the nonprofit organization Catalyst showed that business leaders who mentor, coach and otherwise develop talent within their organizations reap rewards such as further career advancement and increased compensation—as much as $20,075 more over a two-year period. The group attributes this to the fact that helping employees succeed creates both a loyal following and increased visibility within an organization.

3. Focusing on Friendship

It’s often the case that new leaders are promoted from within. Perhaps you now find yourself in charge of your former peer group. Good leaders quickly learn to separate their personal and work lives. If you try to please employees rather than do what’s best for the company, or ask them their opinions on difficult issues in order to seem like a friend instead of a boss, you will be perceived as weak and ultimately make poor decisions. Plus, in this age of cell-phone cameras and harassment suits, making drinking buddies of your subordinates is considered risky business.

4. Making Promises You Can’t Keep

It’s tempting to win favor with employees right away by promising raises, workflow changes or extra vacation time, but telling your new team that all their wildest dreams will come true now that you’re in charge sets you up for failure. When you can’t deliver on your promises, you’ll look foolish and lose credibility with your team. If you identify an area that needs improvement, do some research and learn the limits of your own authority before promising quick-fix solutions.

5. Maintaining the Status Quo

Some new leaders put their well-shod feet up on their new mahogany desks and just try to keep things running smoothly. That’s a great way to get demoted. Leaders aren’t supposed to just maintain operations; they’re put in place to constantly improve them. This doesn’t mean you should innovate for the sake of innovation. It means you should always be looking for ways in which your team can improve, learn and grow.

6. Being Afraid to Punish Misdeeds

Everybody wants to be liked, and new business leaders remember very clearly when they were part of the cubicle farm. It’s tough to be the one dishing out punishments, but it needs to be done. For example, if an employee is causing a problem, gathering the whole team together and addressing it in a generalized way will draw resentment from the employees who weren’t part of the problem and will do little to change the behavior of the person causing trouble. A study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found that what researchers termed “leader reward and punishment behaviors” significantly impacted employees’ attitudes and behaviors on the job. Like it or not, new leaders are responsible for fairness and justice in the workplace.

7. Waiting and Seeing

Many new leaders faced with difficult situations, such as inherited workflow problems or unhappy employees, feel so insecure in their new roles that they adopt a “wait and see” approach. From an employee’s perspective, the leader essentially does nothing while the situation goes from bad to worse. Effective leadership means not being afraid to propose and implement solutions promptly, when problems first arise, not weeks or months after they’re brought to your attention. Failure to act is a surefire way to lose subordinates’ trust and respect.

8. Failing to Define Success

Nobody would rise to a leadership role without being driven to succeed, but many new managers fail to understand just what success will look like in their new roles. Imagine paring down your sales team to cut costs, thinking a healthier bottom line was a measure of success, only to realize later that your superiors had hoped you’d grow your business unit. Meeting with superiors and establishing clear goals or asking them to describe best-case scenarios for your team clarifies expectations and gives new leaders something definite to work toward.

9. Withholding Bad News

Everybody hates to be the bearer of bad news, but some new leaders are especially hesitant to share news that might be poorly received because they worry that it will create a negative impression in the minds of their employees. Withholding important information about budget cuts or impending layoffs or, worse, failing to own these kinds of tough decisions by blaming them on higher-ups or “the powers that be” actually makes new leaders seem untrustworthy. The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer found that, “Less than one-fifth of the general public believes business leaders and government officials will tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue.” In a climate in which your team is already distrustful, it’s more important than ever to own your tough decisions and break bad news to your subordinates in a timely, professional manner.

10. Working in Isolation

Many new leaders become so focused on the group they’re managing that they overlook the importance of fostering relationships with superiors and peers. Asking other leaders with which you work how your group is performing and finding better ways to cooperate to meet stated objectives raises your visibility within your organization and can foster noticeable improvements in productivity and teamwork. Get to know other leaders’ preferred communication and working styles, and use this information to your advantage. The Edelman Trust Barometer suggests that today’s leaders need to practice a style of what researchers call “inclusive management,” making use of all channels of communication, listening to a wide range of influences, and practicing transparency.

Learning to lead takes courage and dedication. After all, if it were easy, everyone would be a CEO. Set yourself apart from your peers by avoiding these ten mistakes common to new leaders, and take on your new role with confidence. Remember to be a leader, not a friend, to your subordinates, then define success in your new position and develop talent and leverage all the resources at your disposal in order to achieve it.

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