I founded my first company in 1998 and my second in 2013. I’ve worked with hundreds of companies as clients in my career – from startups and small businesses to large, enterprises – and have managed employees from coast to coast. So, I’ve seen a lot in regards to leadership, HR and management. I’m not perfect – I believe the best leaders are always learning, just like everyone else – but here are six mistakes I’ve seen leaders repeatedly make.
Micro Managing – Especially at the C-level, leaders should have confidence to let the people they hired do their job (which often includes managing a team of their own). Hold employees accountable with specific goals and metrics – if they don’t meet them, figure out why, together. But if you have to micro manage your team (see their To Do list every day, ask the same questions over and over, etc.), you’ve either hired the wrong people or you’re not focused on the bigger picture.
Being Too Hands-Off – it might seem contradictory to point #1, but you can’t disappear as a leader, either. There’s a difference between paying attention and ensuring everyone is meeting goals, vs stepping away and never checking in on progress towards those goals. It’s not good leadership form to ask, “Is it done?” the day something is due.
Worrying About Everyone’s Feelings. On one hand, you need to lead in a positive manner. On the other hand, this is business. You can’t keep everyone happy, nor should you try. Avoiding conflict or tough decisions due to fear of hurting someone’s feelings is a good way to lead in the wrong direction.
Failure to Dig Into Data. What’s working and what isn’t? If you know, great. But do you take it the next step to find out why something is working or isn’t? With all the data available in business today, smart leaders understand to dig in and analyze it both when things are great – and when they’re not so great. This allows you to repeat winning formulas, and understand the downfalls of your organization so that you can lead to improvement. This includes staff, resources, money, ideas – and all the combinations therein. (And don’t be naive enough to think you’re an organization with no downfalls.)
Wasting Money. I particularly see this in startups. Especially after said startups close funding. Although, I’ve also seen plenty of it in large enterprises where checks and balances get more difficult to track through multiple layers of spending. It’s always surprised me how many startup CEOs, specifically, don’ t really track where the money goes, and if the spending is wise in relation to where the company is in its lifecycle. It’s easy to get caught up in the visceral items – marketing, events, sponsorships, branding – cool business cards, hiring a big name PR firm, or sponsoring a popular tech publications’ startup event. These are all things I’ve seen (especially first time) founders get excited about because it brings cache and (temporary) attention, and makes things feel “real.” But are those the items that are going to close customers for your early on? Are they helping you to develop a better product? There’s a difference – a big one – between what a startup should be spending on vs a decade-old company with a solid customer base and revenue stream. Good leaders shoot down the more “fun” ideas in the early stages, and keep their teams focused on what’s going to bring in the right elements to the company – and continue to apply that insight during each of its lifecycle and growth stages.
Bad Communication And Failure To Listen. It’s absolutely mind boggling how bad leaders can slow down the progress of a company simply by not listening. They don’t take notes in meetings, don’t record or remember outcomes, interrupt often, and forget what they’ve assigned to, or asked of, people. This results in employees, partners and even vendors having to repeat work, waste time explaining what they’re working on – for the 3rd time this week – and everyone feeling frustrated and misunderstood. Leaders listen. Leaders record. Leaders remember and leaders communicate clearly. Too many leaders think they don’t need to communicate clearly because everyone should just know what they want. This doesn’t work in personal relationships, and it doesn’t work between employer/employee relationships, either. Be clear, be concise, be consistent.
What mistakes have you seen by leaders, and how did it affect you or the company in the long run?
This month I’ve had the privilege of speaking with two college classes about marketing, PR, business ownership and entrepreneurship. The first two subjects were the plan, but the last two were natural extensions of the students’ questions.
Last week I spoke to undergraduates at Curry College, who were considering a career in PR or marketing and of joining the college’s PRSA chapter. I shared insights on both the positives and negatives of the 20 year career I’ve experienced, although in such a rapidly-changing world, I’m sure it will be very different for them, even as they graduate in the next few years.
This week I spoke to graduate students studying for their MS in Organizational and Professional Communication at Regis College. This group was comprised of both younger and older students, including those considering a second career as business owners, interested in learning how to market and promote their future companies.
What I found interesting about the experiences of speaking to these students was the questions that came from them during the Q&A. This is of course, the reason I enjoy speaking to college classes – there’s no denying the energy and hunger that comes from someone just beginning their career (or hungry enough to be changing it), wide-eyed and excited; sometimes a little nervous. In both cases I was asked to come speak about my career in marketing, although the questions naturally evolved to my experiences as a business owner, a working mother and an entrepreneur. Here are some of the insights I shared – I thought they might also be helpful to you, readers.
Take a public speaking class. I wish I had done more of this as a college student. I hated public speaking back then – but the truth is that in marketing, especially today, a great deal of what you do is speaking in front of groups. Whether it’s the Boardroom, a client’s executive team, VCs or the media, persuasive and entertaining speaking skills are a must.
Personal brand matters. A lot of older people want to avoid this topic – they struggle with the idea of a personal brand – but I get constant questions from younger executives on the topic of how I marry my personal and professional self. Your personal brand matters because – since we’re all in sales – it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, people still buy from people. It’s emotional. Even when someone says, “It’s just business” – purchases and decisions are emotionally-based. So building a personal brand that people like, engage with and listen to is crucial for success in today’s social world. (It’s hard to be social and impersonal.)
Work/life balance will always be an issue. Another hot topic from crowds I speak to – “How do you do it all?” “Do you ever sleep?” – are questions I’m often asked. The funny thing is that I constantly feel I’m not doing enough, so part of the reason I don’t [seem to] stop is simply personality-driven. But work/life balance is always a challenge – for men and women. The good news is that there is unprecedented opportunity today to create a flexible career – to establish your own company, work virtually or on “off” hours, and find companies who build entire cultures around the issue of work/life balance. Find one from the beginning, and enjoy your life and your career.
Everything is Everything. Everything you do matters. Everything you say, write, post, share, do and choose is marketing of some kind in the social media world in which we all now live. Everyone is a marketer (not all good at it), and everything reflects you, your brand, or your company – even if you have that little disclaimer that your thoughts are your own. In other words, you either help attract customers, or push them away. (Supporting the whole people buy from people theory.) Everything is connected – brands can no longer make outlandish claims in advertising or marketing without very public backlash. PR can’t promote exaggerated stories and brands can’t make false promises only to have customer service fail to keep them. Consumers and customers have the inside track now – so everything you do is everything to your company.
Thank you to both Regis College and Curry College for hosting me. It was a pleasure to meet the students, an honor to be able to share my experiences, and a breath of fresh air to hear their enthusiasm for the future of marketing and beyond.