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?