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The 5 Most Avoidable Leadership Mistakes

How dense can you be?


In the case of the CEO of a New England manufacturing plant, pretty dense.

For several months now, I have been working through my team development program with a team of executives that is miserable.  No one has been willing to take initiative or attempt creative solutions to problems.  Most of them are just marking time, trying to make it to the weekend, their next vacation, or retirement.

How did they get this way?  In coaching them one-on-one, I discovered that their boss, the CEO (we’ll call him Bradley) is so strong-willed and defensive that they feel they can’t talk to him.  Even if they could talk to him, they feel he would never change.  So they are not candid with Bradley.  They don’t believe he is going to be any different, so they don’t do anything different.  They have given up.

They’re stuck.

“I just don’t know how to motivate them,” Bradley complained to me, when I brought this state of affairs to his attention.

“What methods have you tried?” I asked.

“Carrot and stick,” he said.  Then, upon reflection, he added, “Really, just the stick.  I’m afraid that if I don’t use a stick to motivate people, they won’t focus and won’t drive for results.”

I told him that people develop compensatory mechanisms to a stick.  It’s so painful to be beaten by a stick, they compensate by doing self-indulgent things while waiting for the stick, like eating too much, spending hours on Facebook or taking as much time off as they possibly can.

He agreed that all of these negative behaviors were happening.  But he thought it just meant he needed to beat them harder! What a leadership mistake!

I pointed out that another reason to stop using the stick is that people get sick of it.  They just sit down and it doesn’t matter how hard you beat them, they won’t move.

“What do you suggest?” he asked.

I encouraged him to keep telling people about the magic that is special about this manufacturing plant, and inspire them to want to participate.  But first I asked him to make a concerted effort to avoid the five leadership behaviors that indicated to everyone that he was a dense leader.  He had to become a lighter leader if he wanted them to see the light.

There are 5 common ways that dense leaders communicate, and each is avoidable. Here are the 5 avoidable leadership mistakes:

  1. Explaining – rather than owning up to his mistakes, trying to bury them in words.
  2. Justifying – rather than holding himself accountable, concocting reasons for his behavior that fooled no one.
  3. Complaining – rather than casting a vision that inspired his team, painting a verbal picture that they were constantly failing.
  4. Criticizing – rather than uplifting others, “down-lifting” them.
  5. Blaming – rather than claiming responsibility, always making it someone else’s fault.

Each of these is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.  I explained to Bradley that he MUST unlearn those behaviors.  He had to drop the stick as his primary motivational method, or he was never going to drive the results he wanted to see.

Bradley is learning to discover his curiosity.  By developing the ability to listen (rather than explain), to question (rather than justify), to claim responsibility (rather than complain), to wonder (rather than criticize) and to appreciate (rather than blame), he will cultivate in his team a sense of believing again.

I believe there are three things in life that everybody wants: happiness, security and significance.  Everybody gets up out of bed every day in pursuit of those three things.  But their plans are often short-sighted, due to their denseness.  It is my belief that if they saw life correctly, they would be filled with happiness, security and significance every moment of every day, regardless of their circumstances.

Do you know how to achieve happiness, security and significance in your life?  Perhaps an executive coaching session can help you expand your possibilities.  I’d love to help you, over the phone, in person, or through my white paper, “Curiosity,” which gives more insights to help you see through your blind spots and be a leader with a lighter heart.  You can download it HERE for free.

Will you live a life of peace and freedom?  The next step is yours.


About Jack Skeen

Jack Skeen
Jack Skeen, founder of Skeen Leadership, has been coaching bright and successful leaders for close to two decades, spending thousands of hours addressing every imaginable leadership, business and life issue with wisdom and professionalism.

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