Worst Leadership Mistakes

Worst Leadership Mistakes

In this section we’ll explain about some of the common pitfalls people in a position of leadership fall into and how to avoid them. Although a leader may strive to manage performance, inspire her team, and gain the support and trust of that team, things don’t always turn out as planned.

Caution: Don’t overestimate yourself. If you go into a leadership situation thinking you’re prepared for and capable of handling any and every situation, think again. A modest amount of egotism is inherent in any leader, but a true leader also recognizes the fact that she will learn as much from her team as her team will learn from her.

If a new leader, you may find yourself in a situation where you are expected to manage a team that has been allowed to become lethargic—in other words, a team that is not used to being led by an effective manager. Or, you may have an ideal team except for one problem employee. One bad apple may not spoil the whole bunch, but can go a long way toward derailing the goals of the whole bunch. Last, the new leader may let his lack of management experience show by over-reacting or letting his team see that they are capable of playing on his weaknesses. Whatever the case, there will be bumps along the road for any manager or leader. Why? Because managing humans is much harder than managing the most sophisticated computers. Humans are complicated, diverse, and imperfect. While those diversities and imperfections are often things to be celebrated, they provide unlimited opportunities for friction. This chapter touches on some of the most common mistakes made by leaders, new and old, and offers alternatives and solutions to help avoid these situations.

Hey, We’re All Best Buddies Here

A leader is put into a position of responsibility at the head of a team or organization to provide guidance and direction to that organization. However, some leaders make the mistake of becoming too friendly with their team. While an amicable working relationship with a staff is better than a hostile one, overfriendly leader/subordinate relationships can backfire in several ways:

  • Lack of respect. 
    If team members view you as “just one of the gang,” chances are their willingness to defer to your judgment will evaporate.
  • Lack of motivation.  
    Team members may start to slack off on accomplishing team goals and even mundane workday tasks. Why should they break their back to impress you when a “friend” wouldn’t give them a bad review or withhold a raise?
  • Blurred lines.  
    The boundary between friendship and inappropriate relationships is a blurry and ever-changing mark. Being over-friendly, physically or verbally, could be construed as flirtation.
  • Leap-frogging.  
    While a leader may forget his place is at the head of the team, you can bet there’s a team member who remembers and may try to quietly bring in a major project on his own. Of course, the first person he’ll let in on the secret is your boss.

In the final analysis, no one wants to work for an ogre, but employees will be much happier working for someone who sets limits and does not try to be their best friend.


Have you ever worked for someone who looked over your shoulder and seemed to always be ready to do your job for you? If so, you’ve been in the presence of a micromanager.Micromanagement is the practice of exercising an undue amount of control over one’s team. This usually stems from a lack of trust or a feeling of being out of control. Micromanagement does not work. A leader’s job is to identify a vision for the organization, set goals, and delegate authority and tasks to accomplish those goals. The micromanager tries to accomplish everything himself and ends up with either subquality work or several unfinished tasks. The solution? Learn to loosen the reins, delegate.

Thin Skin

As a leader, your qualities must include the ability to stay above the fray. Don’t take things personally, even if a team member baits you with a snide remark or hostile behavior. For example, Dawn had been the head of the textile department at a North Carolina furniture manufacturer for a year. In his short tenure, his department’s productivity and quality had sky-rocketed, largely due to his unorthodox and easy-going management style. However, one employee was always going after him during meetings. If Dawn was giving a presentation to his group about a new process, Andrew would interrupt and tell him in no uncertain terms that he thought the idea was bogus and that he had a better one. Sometimes Andrew was right, but even so, he needed to learn that there is a time, place, and polite way to debate with his boss. After several such incidents, Dan lost his cool, called Andrew into his office and told him he would be transferred to another department because Dawn could not work with him anymore. Needless to say, Dawn reacted inappropriately. He mistook Andrew’s attacks as being directed at him, instead of at the subject matter of his presentations or ideas.

To defuse Andrew’s interruptions, Dawn might have instituted a new policy of asking his entire team to hold all comments until the end of his presentations or even asked them to send their comments via e-mail. As a leader, you do the getting along. Never let an employee see that she is capable of getting to you and pushing the right buttons.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

A leader must be prepared to live by the rules she sets for her team. Asking your team to put in excessive hours or maintain certain standards will be meaningless unless you, too, work excessive hours and adhere to those standards.

Tip : Sometimes the best lesson a leader can give is to roll up her sleeves and show her team how she expects them to work. You may not even need to let them in on the fact that you’re trying to get the same performance out of them. Often, the example stands on its own. 

Don’t Forget to Tip

If a waiter gives good service, the societal norm is to leave that waiter a tip. The better the service, the better the tip. The same applies to the work done by your team. Valued work behaviors must be outlined, then rewarded when achieved. Too often, employees strive to produce excellent results, only to find that the promise of a raise or increased responsibility will not happen. Once employees realize that the raise is never coming or that you are trying to limit their careers by keeping them in the same jobs, they’ll decide to move on.

My Cousin Vinnie

Sometimes the tendency for a new leader is to replace key employees with people that leader has worked with in the past. Sure, you’ve worked with this person, so you know he’ll work hard and probably deliver any objectives that you set before him. However, if you assume leadership of a new group, then set about either firing existing employees to make room for your desired hires, or create new positions for those hires, you’re likely to win one big prize: the animosity of the rest of the staff. While they may have welcomed you with an open mind, they’ll start resenting you if you immediately pass them over for promotions. When you assume a new leadership position, take some time (if you have it) to evaluate the group you’ve been charged with leading. You may be surprised to find a group, or individuals, who work hard and are ready to take their efforts to the next level.

Don’t Compete with Your Group

Some leaders make the fatal mistake of viewing their group as competition. These leaders are constantly keeping vital information to themselves, only to spring it on the staff very late in the game, in the hopes that they will be able to one-up their staff. Part of the leader/subordinate dynamic you set for your group must be to make sure that your employees understand they work for you, not for your boss. Let them know that their job is to achieve the team objectives, not to achieve personal objectives. Your job is the same. And, if you feel an employee is excellent at her work and really should move on, try to facilitate that step up the ladder. You’ll be recognized as a true leader and not mistaken for a paranoid dictator.