12 mistakes commonly made by new leaders


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So you’ve put your hand up to be a leader in your organisation or perhaps it’s been suggested to you that you should. It might be that up till now you have been doing a fair job of managing a group of people but recognise that it is time to start performing as a leader to get real results.

Whatever your circumstances, if you want to get your career as a leader off to the best possible start then you need to examine your attitudes and behaviours, to identify which ones are right and which ones need adjusting.

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12 mistakes commonly made by new leaders

  1. 1. 12 mistakes commonly made by new leaders Karen Schmidt BEd (Adult Ed)
  2. 2. www.letsgrow.com.au 12 mistakes commonly made by new leaders The issue of how to become an effective leader has been debated over a long period of time by many in business, government and academia. The topic continues to be discussed because getting it right is so important to the future of any organisation. If you are passionate about becoming the best leader you can be then this ebook will provide you with food for thought. No one person can claim to have the answer to the complex issue of how to improve the quality of leaders but if everyone who has experience in the area presents their ideas then a fruitful discussion can occur. This ebook presents my thoughts on the topic based on over 15 years of working with organisations as they attempt to improve their practices. As you read it I invite you to assess your current strategies against the criteria to see how you rate and identify where you might need to adjust your plans to achieve a more productive result. I welcome your feedback in the hope that it adds to the ongoing discussion and helps us all create more engaging leaders. Regards, Karen Schmidt BEd (Adult Ed) Engaging Leadership Expert
  3. 3. www.letsgrow.com.au 12 mistakes commonly made by new leaders So you’ve put your hand up to be a leader in your organisation or perhaps it’s been suggested to you that you should. It might be that up till now you have been doing a fair job of managing a group of people but recognise that it is time to start performing as a leader to get real results. Whatever your circumstances, if you want to get your career as a leader off to the best possible start then you need to examine your attitudes and behaviours, to identify which ones are right and which ones need adjusting. Most new leaders start out with good intentions but they often make what can be career limiting moves because they don’t have good role models or simply lack the experience to recognise the long term impact their actions can have. There are 12 common mistakes you need to avoid if you want to get off to a good start in your career as a leader. 1. Role rhetoric 2. Mindset mixup 3. Philosophical faux pas 4. Style stymied 5. Communication conundrum 6. Difficulty dilemma 7. Learning limited 8. Networking novice 9. Help hindrance 10.Quick change quagmire 11.Narrow focus narrative 12.Development disconnect
  4. 4. www.letsgrow.com.au 1. Role rhetoric The very first mistake new leaders make is not understanding their role. They believe the rhetoric that managing is the same as leading since most organisations use the terms “manager” and “leader” interchangeably. Whilst there are many managers in any organisation, the reality is there are very few true leaders. Your goal should be to become one of them. This means you need to understand the different focus required by leaders. When you are being a manager you are concerned with operational matters that assist in task completion. This is commonly known as “doing things right”. It involves following the rules, meeting legislative requirements and keeping everything running on schedule. Leading, on the other hand, is all about “doing the right things”, deciding from the myriad of tasks which ones will move you and your team closer to the strategic goals of the organisation. It’s about finding a new path and disrupting the way things are done to make them better. Your goal is to find a balance between these competing roles as the reality is unless you are in a senior position you will be required to both manage and lead to be successful. 2. Mindset mixup If you go into the role of leader with the wrong mindset you will find the going tough. How you think about your team has a direct impact on how they react to you and how they perform. If you go into the role with the wrong mindset, one that says to people “I am here to lead you” or “I know better than you”, then you will most likely encounter a negative or submissive attitude in response from your staff. It may be that you have good intentions, such as showing you are a strong leader, but your mindset is mixed up. A more helpful mindset is one that says “I am here to support you” or “I want us to learn from each other”. This tells people that you truly understand what it takes to create a successful team and is far more likely to result in a positive, supportive reaction from your team. The wrong mindset often comes from the mistaken belief that leaders must be infallible. Today people want leaders who are more human even if they come with faults.
  5. 5. www.letsgrow.com.au 3. Philosophical faux pas Leading isn’t just about the decisions you make and the actions you take. It’s also about the philosophy that underpins your thought patterns and behaviours. You will be mistaken if you think your team will automatically figure out your philosophical stance on their own. This is a faux pas that has seen many a new leader stumble. Developing a well defined philosophy towards leading and then adequately communicating it to your team will ensure they are clear on where you stand. This means that even when you aren’t around they will know what you would do in a given situation. It also gives you a framework from which to operate, making you more aware of why you lead they way you do. The result is you are seen as a leader who stands for something rather than one who will fall for any new idea that comes along. This is the kind of leader that people want to follow even if the path they are being taken down is unfamiliar or tough going. Your challenge is to design a philosophy that is natural for you and avoids any of the clichéd phrases that cause team members to roll their eyes, sigh and disengage. 4. Style stymied Whilst often confused with a philosophy, your style as a leader is the way you demonstrate your philosophy. Two leaders can have a similar philosophy whilst implementing it using very different styles. Trying to copy someone else when it is not in keeping with your natural style will see you come across as a fake leader. Like a fake plant, you may look good from a distance but the truth comes out when people get up close. Identifying your style begins with examining yourself to understand the background you come from, the styles you have been exposed to and the lessons you have learnt from being on the receiving end of other leader’s styles. The best leaders know that their style needs to be fluid to allow for the individual nature of the people they lead and the situations they will find themselves in. Having a “one size fits all” style will create obstacles for you as a leader. The secret is to be true to yourself whilst remaining flexible enough to bend with the prevailing conditions rather than attempt to remain unmoved in the face of competing forces.
  6. 6. www.letsgrow.com.au 5. Communication conundrum Communicating as a leader can be confusing. The problem is how to be effective when dealing with a diverse range of people. You are required to meet the communication needs of your team, other disciplines, your peers on the leadership team, senior leaders, customers, suppliers and others. Each of them wants and needs different information from you. Then you need to consider the variety of communication mediums available to get your message across including face to face, telephone, written and electronic media. Next, add in the nuances of communicating with one person, a small group or large audiences. Finally, throw into the mix the individual preferences people have that are influenced by their personality style, cultural background, gender, age, etc and you have a puzzle with many pieces. It is no wonder that new leaders often struggle to get their ideas across as even the most straightforward subject matter goes through a range of filters on its path from the mind of the leader to that of the receiver. The best leaders are master communicators, learning to watch and listen for the signs of ineffective communication knowing that early intervention is the secret to unlocking the communication conundrum. 6. Difficulty dilemma Often trying to solve problems as a leader involves disappointing someone. You are then faced with the difficult decision of which option to choose. Other times there can appear to be no satisfactory solution and everyone is left unhappy. For some new leaders there can be a tendency to avoid these difficult situations. Some simply ignore the problem hoping it will go away. Perhaps they convince themselves that it is a left over from the last leader and that, with time, it will resolve itself. Whilst sometimes this can be the case, often the situation does require some intervention from the new leader if only to show the team their personal style. Others try to push the more difficult situations up to their leader or out to the Human Resources department, claiming they are better equipped to handle the problem. They believe that if someone else makes the decision and they simply implement it they can retain their positive image with the team. The new problem becomes that the leader may remain popular but they won’t earn the respect that comes from dealing with the difficult aspects of their role.
  7. 7. www.letsgrow.com.au 7. Learning limited There is a belief amongst some new leaders that once they reach a position of authority that they need to be seen as “all knowing”, especially if they are tasked with teaching others as part of their role. This thinking can stop them from continuing to learn once they have been promoted based on the false assumption that they must present an air of competence at all times. Nothing could be further from the truth. Great leaders are lifelong learners. They know their role requires constant reinvention, as there is always something new happening. They also know that you can teach and learn at the same time. In fact they see teaching as a form of learning as the teacher often learns as much in the process as the learner. Average leaders encourage their team members to get involved in development programs but outstanding leaders role model the behaviour by setting an example. They are willing to recognise the limits of their understand and then strive to increase their knowledge to help themselves perform better which in turn helps their team to perform better. 8. Networking novice When taking on your first role as a leader there can be a tendency for people to become so focused on the operational aspects of their job that they ignore the important part that networking plays in their success. Some of a leader’s responsibilities include promoting the work of their team, sourcing information to assist their team and staying in the loop on important developments in their field. These can all be achieved in part from effective networking both internally and externally. The reason some leaders avoid networking is because they have the false belief that it gives others the impression they are out to promote themselves perhaps even in the pursuit of another role. By changing their mindset to see networking as a way of furthering the interests of their team, and the organisation, new leaders can start to reap the rewards of this influential activity. The most effective leaders are well connected. They know which relationships to nurture and when helping others achieve their goals will have a positive impact on their credibility. They want to become part of a community of leaders rather than operate alone. They also know that having a presence gives their team confidence in their ability to represent them at a senior level.
  8. 8. www.letsgrow.com.au 9. Help hindrance A new leader failing to ask for help when they need it is a typical example of a hindrance that will delay their progress. It stems from a belief that asking for help is a sign of failure when it fact the opposite is true. Leaders who ask for help are sending a message to their team that it is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of being smart enough to know what you can and can’t cope with. The leader who asks for help is sending a message to their team that they should feel comfortable doing the same. To other leaders, asking for help is a sign that the person is a team player. They are someone that other leaders can rely on for help when they need it. This is the kind of attitude that creates good teamwork. The leader who fails to ask for help wastes time, money and effort as they struggle on alone. This can result in permanent damage to their reputation. It is generally less painful to ask for help early than it is to admit down the track that you have made a mistake that could have been prevented or minimised by a simple request for assistance. Talk to many experienced leaders and they will tell you that not putting up your hand will, more often than not, hinder your career. 10. Quick change quagmire New leaders can have a tendency to want to be seen as making a difference early on in their role. However, this presents them with a precarious situation, especially if they may have been brought into the role specifically to make changes. Often they are keen to leave their mark and show their appointment was a good decision. Smart leaders avoid the “clean broom” mentality of making sweeping changes at the start of their role, knowing they need time to understand what is going on. They avoid jumping in and making ill informed decisions they will later regret knowing that making changes too quickly can mean they are only dealing with the surface issues rather than underlying root causes of the problems. This also stops them from making change for the sake of change, as they know it is a recipe for disaster. They don’t want to be labeled as a “nouveaux riche” leader, someone who changes their mind with the latest fashion to the irritation of those people who have to implement their current whim knowing it is ill advised and will probably change again soon anyway.
  9. 9. www.letsgrow.com.au 11. Narrow focus narrative When a leader has a narrow focus narrative going on in their head, they are only concerned with the needs of their team. Also known as the silo mentality, this creates competitive cultures with an “us and them” mindset the norm. Other teams and their leaders are seen as an enemy to be beaten rather than allies who can work together to achieve a common goal. This way of thinking rubs off on team members and, in the extreme, can mean that they start to operate more as individuals than a unified group. In turn this actually makes the leader’s job more difficult. Inexperienced leaders believe they are showing their commitment and support of the team by thinking this way when the result is often the opposite. By having tunnel vision the leader can deny their team opportunities, as information is not shared between other leaders or teams. This type of leader is forgetting that they are part of a leadership team that needs to work together to help the whole organisation reach it’s goals, not just help their team reach goals. 12. Development disconnect An important responsibility of any leader, that is not always made clear to them at the start of their role, is to identify and develop new leaders. Once a leader has settled into their role they need to get started on this important task. For some leaders there is a disconnect between their willingness to develop people as team members and their willingness to offer the same support and guidance when it comes to taking a step up in the organisation. It could be that the leader is more interested in keeping their current team intact. If they groom someone to be a leader that person may attract the attention of other leaders who might poach them before a spot can be found in their current team. Some leaders are afraid to let others surpass them in achievement so they hold them back by denying them development opportunities. The best leaders realise that anyone who becomes an effective leader as a result of their assistance can only reflect positively on their skills as a trainer and role model. They are proud to see their former team members go on to have successful careers as leaders knowing the part they have played.
  10. 10. www.letsgrow.com.au Let’s Grow! Growing engaging leaders Let’s Grow! is in the business of assisting organisations to thrive by showing them how growing their managers into engaging leaders will harvest bottom line results. Director Karen Schmidt is an award winning speaker, workshop leader, facilitator, coach and author. Karen’s philosophy is simple . . . she believes that being a great leader is like being a great gardener. She uses this philosophy to help people understand how to develop a more natural approach to leading that yields results. Originally a Human Resources practitioner, she has been nurturing leaders for more than 20 years. Karen’s experience comes from working with organisations of all shapes and sizes representing industries as diverse as IT, financial services, direct selling, manufacturing, retail, the military and professional associations. Along the way she has led teams of permanent, temporary and volunteer workers. She also believes that educating is a form of leading that deserves more recognition. To add to her practical experience she holds a degree in Adult Education and formal qualifications in Human Resource Management and Facilitation. Karen is the author of “Lessons in leading from the garden” and “Keep ‘em keen: a guide for managers on engaging people of all ages and career stages”. Today she works with current and future leaders across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. Her clients include corporates, government, professional associations, educational institutions and not for profits. Her services include: • Individual coaching • Leader development strategic planning • Leadership team facilitation • “Budding Leaders” development program