9 Mistakes To Avoid: What Makes Good Leaders Go Bad?


Leaders are great people. Leaders can have a great influence over the lives of the people they lead. Great leaders challenge their people to attempt great things they would never try on their own. They inspire their people to go places they never would go on their own. They inspire their people to think thoughts they never knew they had. W. H. Cowley said, “A leader is anyone who has two characteristics: First he is going someplace: second, he can persuade other people to go with him”.

Some often great leaders can forget what it feels like to be led.

In fact, some leaders have never experienced what it means to be a follower. And herein lies the failure of the leader. In other words, leaders have incredible power for good or bad in the people’s lives they’re leading, and if they don’t know how to lead, how can their leadership then be successful?

9 Mistakes To Avoid: What Makes Good Leaders Go Bad? Click To Tweet

So what are the common pitfalls of leadership? What makes a leader lose their power to influence his/her people positively? What makes good leaders go bad? Because the good you can do as a leader can often be destroyed by the actions you fail to take. No matter how well you lead right now, just two or three blind spots in your leadership ability can mess up your influence for good. 

So I want to give you Nine Mistakes To Avoid When You’re A Leader.

1. Avoid the mistake of having a bossy arrogance


Domineering arrogance goes something like this, “I am in charge here, so you’d better listen up. The sooner you realize I am the leader around here, the better”. 

If you think your job as a leader is to keep your people in line and their place, then you’ve got it all wrong. No leadership consists of a top-down attitude. A top-down leader always thinks he/she needs to be served by their people, as opposed to the leader serving his/her people. 

The key is: You need to become a servant-leader

A servant-leader is always willing to work along-side their people to get the job done. In other words, as a servant leader, there should be nothing in your organization or department that anyone else does, that you should not be willing to do yourself. People should be following you for who you are and what stands for in life. A servant leader’s role is always to make it possible for those who work with them, to be successful. That’s the way you empower your people. So don’t make the mistake of being a dictatorial and top-down leader. Become a servant-leader.

Related: 15 Ways On How To Improve Writing Skills For Leaders

2. Avoid the mistake of the lack of affirmation and praise


Over the years many leaders have made the mistake to believe, that their people’s pay packets are the biggest driving force behind their motivation. Not so! Affirmation and praise drive more people to be successful than money alone. You can be in a job and earn all the money in the world, but if you’re not thanked or encouraged, you will soon run out of motivation. 

The key here is: Human beings must have their emotional batteries charged very often. Everyone needs a good deal of encouragement more often than we might think they need. Phyllis Theroux said, “One of the commodities in life that most people can’t get enough of, is compliments. The ego is never so intact that one can’t find a hole in which to plug a little praise. But, compliments by their very nature are highly biodegradable and tend to dissolve hours or days after we receive them – which is why we can always use another”.

A leader always needs to assure his/her people that they are valuable. Remember, there is always something good to be found in every person working for you. 

Here’s the key again: Don’t just look for it and do nothing about it, but use words and personal notes to tell your people how much you appreciate them and value them. One of the greatest mistakes a leader can make is not to encourage his/her people. This is not for you.

When someone has done a great job, get out of your office and visit them to say thanks. Don’t keep someone’s achievement a secret in the office. Remember, people get discouraged when their extraordinary efforts go unnoticed and unrewarded. 

Here’s another Key: Reward your people in public, not in some back office. Reward and encourage and thank your people in public.

Related: 23 Ways On How To Become A Motivational Speaker

3. Avoid the mistake of putting work before people


Many leaders find that with the task of leadership, comes more responsibility. As a result, they begin to forget about how important their people are. That’s when they make the mistake of seeing their people more as interruptions than opportunities. Often the good work you are doing as a leader is all wasted by estranging your people. As a leader, your people will always want your attention, and that’s what you’ve got to give them.

So here’s the key: Never see your people as interruptions, because of that kind of interruptions in your work. Yes, I know leaders have got many duties to perform, but never neglect your people’s work. When people conclude that your day to day tasks are more important than them, they conclude that you don’t care about them. Often leaders become so task-orientated, that they forget to be people-orientated. People will never care how much you know until they know how much you care!

Leadership is a people business. So don’t let all that paperwork and deadlines create a barrier between you and the opportunity to touch your people’s lives for good. People change people by direct contact, almost all of the time. Effective leaders always make room for their people, because if you forget to do this, then you’re making a big leadership mistake.

Related: The Importance Of Emotional Intelligence In Leadership

4. Avoid the mistake of suppressing people’s creativity and un-conventionalism 


Have you ever brought a suggestion to your organization, and then you heard, that’s impossible to pull off…we don’t do things like that around here… it’s against company policy to attempt such things? That’s a  recipe for pushing away your most important people. To be frank with you, I don’t like policies, they just make me nervous. Yet I understand we need them, but we have to be flexible also. Too many organizations become institutions, and therefore new ideas are not looked at anymore.

Truth is, if any organization wants to make it in the future, they will have to change how they do business. No progress is made without new ideas being accepted and implemented, and that’s where your creative and risk-taking people play their biggest role. You need to let them play that role.

You have to make room in your organization or department for the nonconformist and unconventional person. They are the people who are willing to color outside the lines of a company policy, and you need to let them do that sometimes.

In 1943, Thomas Watson, the then chairman of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for about five computers”. We know differently today. The 3M company encouraged the man who invented Post-It Notes to work on his idea in company time. One of the mistakes a leader can make is to suppress the adventurous thinkers with endless policies and meetings and procedures. This is not for you. Instead, release your creative people. Don’t let the system kill your people’s inventiveness. Give them room to succeed.

Related: 11 Simple Confidence Building Activities to Boost Self Esteem Effectively for Adults

5. Avoid the mistake of claiming the right as the only decision maker in the organization


Have you ever had the feeling that your boss or superior gets you to do things for their good, and not for the good of the rest of the people in the organization or department? Have you ever come up with a great idea, only to have it thrown out by your boss? Do you ever get to fully trust such a person? Probably not, because they deny and reject the value of the individual people in the organization. This kind of leader breaks their people’s spirit and sense of achievement. Why do they act this way?…because they think that every decision and every piece of information must go through them first. That’s not leadership, that dictatorship.

Yet great leaders know, that their best ideas will come from the people working for them, whereas dictatorial leaders remain unaware of the riches of useful ideas their people have. In other words, dictatorial leaders always keep the lid on their people’s new ideas and creativity.

What we have to understand, is that leadership has to do with how I positively influence others.

Here’s the key: A leader’s job is to help his/her people release their potential as much as possible. A leader never dominates from the top. This is why a leader is always moving towards a team emphasis. In other words, a team is a group of people working toward the same goal, inspired by their leader, and once that is achieved, the leader allows ideas and decisions to come from his/her team. The leader steers the team, but it’s the team that reaches the goal together.

So here’s the key: When a job is delegated to a person, allow that person to decide how it will be done. If people want to do the job differently, yet they still accomplish the same results, then let them do it their way. Remember, results are everything, not the method! As someone once said, “Try and push decisions ‘down-line’, throughout the organization”. That way you empower people to become leaders themselves in the future. Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights; the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard; the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations”. That way your people get to own their work. Remember, a leader never sees all truth and decisions as their own. They never limit all the decisions to themselves. No, they involve others as much as possible because they see their people as their greatest resource for ideas.

Related: 9 Steps for Successful Compassionate Leadership Implementation

6. Avoid the mistake of delegated responsibility going bad


I can still remember when I was young, I was given a certain job to do. Of course, I entered the endeavor with enthusiasm and great motivation. A few days later I was called into the office and told, that someone else has been assigned to help me with the project. To say the least, I was furious and disappointed. You see, right there in that office, that project had been given to someone else. In other words, the authority given to me alone to finish the project was now taken away from me. Has that ever happened to you? You were given a job, you finished it on time and spec, only to find out that the boss has gone with someone else’s proposal in the meantime? Nothing frustrates a follower more when a delegated task goes bad because of bad leadership skills. The main problem is, that most leaders want to hold onto their power; they cannot learn to depend on others in a team environment; they’re scared their followers will do a better job than they would, and most of all, they underestimate the value of their people.

Delegation is about private ownership of a task. A leader who is worth his/her salt will realize, they must give their followers the freedom to own their work or they will lose the pride and motivation very quickly.

In other words, when you delegate a job, make sure your people have the freedom to decide how to do the job. Never make the method more important than the results you’re looking for. Believe me, your way of doing things is not the only of doing things. The worst thing you can do after you’ve delegated a task is to constantly look over that person’s shoulder. This is not for you. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants to be done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it”. Wise words!

The delegation went bad means, teasing your people with the success of a certain task or project while having no intention of giving them success at the end of the day. Here’s the key when Delegating: First you give them the job, then you give them the authority to complete that job and the freedom to get the job done in their way. Delegation gone bad will rob your people of success, inventiveness, creativity, and motivation. More than that, your people will quickly lose their respect for you as their leader if you misuse delegation. By the way, when you delegate, don’t ever treat everyone the same. People are at different levels of competence, so treat each person differently.

7. Avoid the mistake of communication confusion


When there is a lack of proper communication of a leader to his/her followers, chaos reigns, and when chaos reigns, then rumor starts. Therefore you can never communicate enough with your people because it keeps your organization or department alive. People who are working for you need to know what’s going on in your mind; the big news as well as the little details. Don’t leave them in the dark. That way they feel ownership of the organization.

Your role as a leader must be the same as that of an orchestra conductor. You must bring harmony out of the communication process. Here’s the key: Remember that communicating with your people is getting through to them. Don’t just give them information, get through to them.  It’s your job as a leader to know what the purpose and goals and values of the organization are, and then to continually communicate that to your people. There is no short-cut here. Max De Pree in his book Leadership Is An Art says this, “The right to know is basic. Moreover, it is better to err on the side of sharing too much information than risk leaving someone in the dark. Information is power, but it is pointless power if hoarded. Power must be shared for an organization or a relationship to work”.

If you want to eradicate communication confusion in the workplace, then everybody needs to know what the rules of the game are. I believe everybody has a right and need to know what’s going on. And by the way, if you’re not communicating properly, then you’ll have damaged and broken relationships, and relationships are what leadership is all about. That means, first of all, you’ll have to listen to them intently! Leadership has more to do with listening than talking! A closed mind will wipe out your credibility, trustworthiness, and respect as a leader. Henry David Thoreau said, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me, was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer”.

  Here are the areas in which you need to communicate clearly and continually:

  1. The organization’s Goals, Vision, Values, and Cultural Fit: Do they know the way you do things around here?
  2. The lines of Authority and Responsibility: Do your people know who to talk to when they have a problem? Do they know who to talk to when they have a grievance?  Do they know who to approach when they need resources for a specific project?
  3. Job Responsibilities: Do they know what their job responsibilities are? Have you told them? Do they know whom they need to report to?

Doug Firebaugh said, “Communication skills are the lifeblood of a successful life…if you plan on spending any time there…”

8. Avoid the mistake of not mentoring a successor to follow in your footsteps 


I want you to imagine you are shipwrecked on a deserted island. You have a radio, but you only have three minutes of battery life leftover. The three minutes you have left must be used to contact your office and tell them what is most important, just in case you never get back. Included in those instructions, you must announce who’s going to be your successor if you should not return. What that little exercise brings to the forefront is this: Who are you going to trust to take your business into the future and make a success of it? Who’s going to take over your leadership position in the future? If you don’t know off-hand who will be your successor, then you most probably haven’t been thinking about mentoring a successor. Because here’s the scenario as Robert Jeffress said, “If a company CEO does not provide and prepare a successor to take the reins of leadership of his corporation, he is ensuring the eventual demise of his organization”.

There is nothing as bad as a failed leadership changeover because any organization or department’s long-term success lies in the fact of successful leadership changeover.

Your responsibility as a leader is then to look for those people who will take over from you one day, and then mentor them because you need to keep in mind, that one day you will have to pass the leadership baton to someone else. That means a few things though: First of all, you must hold your leadership role and responsibility without losing hands. The more you hold onto it, the more difficult it becomes to pass it on to your successor, which means, humility needs to replace pride in the position you hold.                                                                                                                  

Secondly, you will need to have faith in the generation that comes after you to lead with the same intensity, purpose, and success as you did.

9. Avoid the mistake of neglecting your continues self-development


David J. Schwartz said, “Persons who reach the higher rungs in business management, selling, engineering, religious work, writing, acting, and in every other pursuit, get there by following conscientiously and continuously a plan for self-development and growth”. If you want to be a successful leader in the future, then you’ll have to make education a continuous, never-ending process in your life, because everything you are and will be in the future, is entirely up to you. All your previous actions have brought you to where you are right now, and what you will do today in terms of self-development, will determine where you will be tomorrow. If you want things to be different for you in the future, then you’ll have to make things different in the present. Someone once said, “If you don’t change the road you’re traveling on, you’ll probably end up where you’re going”.

Charlie Tremendous Jones said, “You will be the same person five years from now that you are today, except for the books you read, the tapes you listen to, and the people you associate with”. Self-Development is vital to any leader because it assures you that there is no limit to what you can accomplish. No one limits your growth, but you. A leader who makes the mistake of not continually reading will have a very short shelf life. The reason why so many good leaders go bad can be summed up in one word: neglect. Nothing is worse than a good leader who’s gone stale.

Here’s the key: Learn to work harder on yourself than on your job (Jim Rohn). Because who you become through continuous self-development, will directly influence what you get out of life. To have more than what you’ve got right now, you must first become more than who you are right now. Don’t neglect your continuous self-development. Sit down and plan what books you want to read, what courses you want to attend, how many hours a day you will set aside for your self-development. Then work your plan, and your plan will work for you. Remember, you have control over your value in the market place, by the self-development you do, or don’t do.