Whether you’ve just been handed your first supervisory role or you’re sitting on top of the entire empire, being a leader isn’t easy. From the constant scrutiny of every decision you make to the pressure of devising solutions when things go awry, it’s inevitable that mistakes will occur at some point.
However, while this is true, some of the more common pitfalls are still avoidable. Knowing where the majority of leaders go wrong will allow you to focus on implementing your own vision, instead of worrying about your new regime imploding; this is better for you, for your workforce and, ultimately, for the company as a whole.
So, if you’ve just been handed the reins of power, pay attention; this is what you should NOT be doing…
1. Delegating Badly
The biggest problem for leaders who are promoted from within is undoubtedly making the transition from their previous hands-on role to their new hands-off one. Although the temptation to carry on performing your previous responsibilities can be understandable and well-intentioned, you have to accept that it’s simply not your job anymore.
Leadership is about organising, focusing and steering the overall ship, not running back and forth trying to complete every small task yourself. At best, you simply won’t be able to cope with everything, and at worst, you will be guilty of micromanaging and undermining the people in your team. You will have more than enough on your plate, anyway, so don’t draw yourself away from your own responsibilities to take on others.
2. Being Too Friendly
Going from colleague to manager can have a peculiar effect on your personal and professional relationships in the workplace. On the one hand, you’re still the same person you were yesterday, but on the other, you now have a level of responsibility and accountability that means some things have to change.
For example, privately gossiping at lunch about who Karen may or may not be sleeping with might have been the norm previously, but in your new role it is completely inappropriate and potentially dangerous for you to be involved in such conversations.
Of course, you don’t want to go too far and completely shut yourself off and leave yourself open to accusations of superiority; the key to striking this balance is to be professional at all times and know where the boundaries start and end in the workplace.
3. Communicating Poorly
Poor communication is something that can affect a team dynamic at any level, but the biggest impact on performance is when it is happening within management. Not being able to get your message across will cause serious problems in the long run and is one of the worst traits a manager can have.
Bad communication doesn’t just involve instruction being misunderstood, either. It also means being unapproachable, failing to provide feedback or even refusing to listen to others – communication works two ways, after all.
Enforce to your team that your door is always open, but take the initiative,e too. Speak regularly with individuals to discuss their concerns and aspirations and, where possible, make improvements based on what you are being told. At the same time, let people know your own thoughts – always have an ongoing dialogue with your team and ensure you are developing a culture where people are comfortable speaking their mind. Remember: effective communication enables change and allows people to perform more efficiently.
4. Ignoring the Little Guy
While by definition you are a leader, there is only one person in the organisation that isn’t receiving orders from above; everyone else is still accountable. This means that you will likely be sandwiched between appeasing your own superiors and looking out for the interests of your team – a balance, unfortunately, that many managers get completely wrong.
While it’s understandable that you want to appear competent and hit the targets given to you, you also need to remember that you are responsible for the development and welfare of your team members. Making them work every hour under the sun might result in projects finishing ahead of schedule and slaps on the back for you upstairs, but your team downstairs won’t think much of you. Indeed, in the long run, it will just cause resentment and frustration; don’t be surprised to see your best talent seeking value elsewhere.
Leaders who are willing to push back and fight their team’s corner always inspire loyalty and commitment; this, in turn, results in better performance and a workforce who will run through brick walls for you.
5. Reacting Instead of Anticipating
One of the easiest traps that leaders fall into isn’t necessarily failing to see that something is going to happen but rather choosing to do nothing about it until it’s too late.
Of course, some things will come at you from totally out of the blue and all you can do is react, but you should always be looking several steps ahead. Doing so will actually make your job 10 times easier if something does happen, as you will be prepared and will have put measures in place to mitigate the effects.
This doesn’t just apply to acute industry-specific events, either. Having the foresight to understand where developing technologies can advance your business, for example, is a hugely valuable asset and demonstrates your vision.
6. Misusing Your Best Tools
If you’ve been promoted from within, you will have some idea of who on the team is good at what. But if you’re taking over a new department and you’ve had little or no exposure to the people in it, you will be starting completely from scratch.
A sensible leader will immediately start to figure out where the strengths and weaknesses of the team lie, especially through one-to-one meetings and close scrutiny of people’s competencies and experience. But a good leader will closely monitor behaviours and performance, and develop their own idea of where people would be best suited to benefit the wider team.
Don’t just assume everyone is motivated by the same thing, either. Sure, some people react to the dangled carrot of a bonus or reward, but others are driven by being challenged or pushed out of their comfort zone. Leadership isn’t about adopting a one-size-fits-all approach – you’ll get more out of your team if you know and understand them.
7. Second-Guessing Yourself
When you’re newly promoted into a leadership role, all eyes will be on you; it is, therefore, important to be assertive and have conviction in your decisions. After all, you’ve been assigned a position of responsibility because someone else trusts your judgement and suitability, so don’t feel like you don’t belong.
Of course, this isn’t a free pass to establish a forceful dictatorship and do whatever you want; you should still consult, take on board advice and evaluate all points of view before you arrive at a resolution. But being indecisive, or constantly backtracking on yourself, will only result in others losing confidence in your abilities. Listen to others by all means, but always be your own person and do what you think is right.
As you can see, there is a multitude of potential hazards to try and avoid as a leader; don’t panic, though. Most companies take management development seriously and they will support you and guide you as you find your feet. You will pick up the intricate subtleties of leadership as you go, but this is a good starting point of potential problems you will face – always remain confident in your abilities and never be afraid to treat your mistakes as a learning process.