LME014/015 Leadership Mistakes! The Top Ten and how to avoid them!

Leadership mistakes happen. People make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. But the main thing is to realize your mistakes, analyze them, and then try to change your behavior to avoid making them again in the future.

But that is easier said than done. When trying to improve, the first step is decisive: You have to realize your own mistakes.

Listen to the podcast versions

That is why today I would like to share with you the WORST 10 leadership mistakes. Probably many of the mistakes will already be familiar to you. Perhaps you remember some of your own bosses who you had to endure.

But more importantly, think about whether you, as manager, have made these mistakes yourself. I have made a few of these mistakes as manager. The effects they can have on employee motivation can be devastating.

Leadership MistakesSo let us take a closer look: Here are the WORST 10 leadership mistakes, which you should watch out for and avoid:

No 1 of the top leadership mistakes: Avoiding making decisions!

Decisions need to be carefully considered. But to wait as long as possible because of this, until you think you have every last bit of information, is usually the wrong way to go. Accept the fact that you, as manager and leader, must make decisions even when you don’t have a complete overview because you still haven’t got all the facts.

As leaders and entrepreneur you need to make swift and clear decisions, and you have to live with the risk of making the wrong decision.

One of my bosses once laid it out for me really clearly:

“As manager you bear all the risks in the decision! So let’s make one thing clear: To be a manager means accepting that you can get fired!”

The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more unpleasant the decisions that you must make will be. Some examples which come to mind are firing employees or shutting down plants, for example.

If you continually put off making decisions because of anxiety or for political reasons – if you even keep out of sight of your employees and simply don’t reply to emails on the subject anymore – then you will frustrate and demotivate your employees, especially those who are very motivated and committed.

As manager it is your job to make the decision.
What are you like? Do you avoid making decisions?

2 Being non-committal!

Many managers don’t trust themselves to tell it like it really is. They don’t want to commit themselves. They want to keep all options open.

Their non-committal nature can often be recognized in their speech. Phrases get mangled, and weak expressions are used, such as:

  • Synergy effects
  • A new-orientation to bring things into focus
  • Proactive downsizing

Some of these managers don’t even notice anymore that they only emit meaningless mumbo-jumbo – but their employees sure do!

That’s why I say don’t skirt around the subject. As manager you want to be understood. Get to the point. Commit yourself. Formulate goals clearly and tell your colleagues exactly what you expect from them. Be decisive and dependable, because that will make you consistent!

Are you decisive and consistent?

3 Not listening!

Many misunderstandings in daily exchanges can be prevented, if only managers would take the time to simply pay attention.

Why do managers find it so difficult to listen actively?

I believe it is for the following reason: Most managers want to be perceived as active doers. I know that because I went down this path! It#s a very common leadership mistake. Often, activity seems to give you a supposed feeling of being in control. In contrast, listening is wrongly equated with passivity and subordination. That’s why many managers concentrate more on speaking than on listening. After all, the boss has the final say.

But: People who don’t listen and pay attention are more likely to make the wrong decisions!

Unfortunately, many people only listen briefly and form their own opinion much too early on. The technical term for this is “premature assessment”. Many managers suffer from making premature assessments. They form judgments on statements by their staff much too quickly.

But when they do that they are not actually really listening to their staff. They are already engrossed in their own ideas for solving problems, and don’t even take the time to really understand the problem and the point of view of their staff. When this happens, misunderstandings and wrong decisions are inevitable.

Do you listen enough? Or do you judge and react even while your people are still speaking? Click here to learn more about how to become a better listener.

4 Micromanaging!

Micromanagement is a classic example of demotivating manager behavior. The micromanager assigns tasks and then controls them in minute detail, without permitting his subordinates to participate in decision-making. The manager not only specifies the goal, but also the detailed plan of how to achieve it.

By their behavior, micromanagers demonstrate their lack of trust in their subordinates. This frustrates, demotivates, and paralyzes subordinates’ ability to think on their own.

Do you want to know if you have micromanagement tendencies? Then answer the following questions:

  • In every project do you constantly have to have an overview?
  • Do you want to know everything in detail for every project?
  • Can you take responsibility for all the work of your subordinates yourself?
  • Do you believe that you, as manager, know more and can do more than your subordinates?
  • Do you suffer from email overload?

If you answer even one of these questions with yes, then you should take a closer look at whether you are micromanaging in your daily work.

Ask your staff if you allow them enough freedom to do their work. If not, learn how to delegate instead of only controlling.

5 A conceited view of yourself!

Managers don’t have much time. Their schedules are hectic because they have a lot to get done. They are very committed, and bustle from meeting to meeting. Ultimately they are really important, after all things would collapse without them.

That is why they often think that they can take the liberty of doing things that their subordinates would never do, such as coming to a meeting too late (after all, there was that critical telephone conversation with a major customer…). Such managers also have so much to do that they naturally think they must read their emails while a colleague holds a presentation. But woe unto the employee who reads his/her emails during a meeting while the boss explains the new company strategy!

Some bosses are so important and have so much to do that there is no area where they don’t try to save time, even when it comes to saying please and thank you. After all, they can streamline things even more by leaving out the formalities, can’t they? And when the stress becomes unbearable, one has to accept that a guy just has to fly off the handle sometimes – which can get pretty unpredictable!

If you demonstrate through your actions to your staff that “I am important, you are not so important!”, how do you think that will affect their motivation? How would you feel?

You have to act as a role model first for whatever you demand from others. It is important to treat your staff like you yourself want to be treated. Do you do that?

6 Acting unfairly and unjustly!

Fairness is an important basis for a good company culture, but some managers seem to forget this in the midst of hectic day-to-day activities. They are so pre-occupied with themselves and their work that they don’t take the time to put themselves in the position of their staff.

Often they are not even aware of how they hurt their subordinates with their conduct and words. This happens, for example, when the boss gives preference to a few favorite staff members by giving them all the interesting projects. Or if an employee makes a mistake and the boss gives him/her a dressing down in front of the whole group. Such behavior is unjust and unfair, and that is exactly how it is perceived by all the other employees. This leads to frustration and demotivation among them.

A really critical issue is remuneration. It is very important that the boss behaves justly and fairly.This is especially true in the case of the salary. Don’t be stingy when determining payment.

The salaries you pay must be appropriate and plausible. That is especially true in the case of the internal salary structure.

More important than the actual amount of the salary is the relation of salaries to one another. Are the differences in the salaries of your colleagues fair? Imagine if the salaries would be revealed for all to see. Would you be able to explain in good conscience the differences in the salaries of all your employees? Are these differences in salary justified?

If you are convinced that performance based bonus and performance based salaries is a good idea, you better read this post: “What you ought to know about performance based bonus“.

7 Not standing by your word!

Leadership only works with trust. But trust is something you have to earn. The only way to build trust is to actually do that which you also say.

If you make a promise, then keep it! Not only in the big things, but especially in the small things. If you tell your colleague you will forward the report in an email today, then he/she should get it today, and not tomorrow! After all, you promised this. What you have said is your word of honor!

Have you ever heard this typical sentence;

“Especially now, in the current crisis, we need to communicate credibility”?

What nonsense. You don’t have to communicate credibility. 
You must be credible!

Take a clear stand; keep your promises – and as manager you need to act consistently.

You will lose your credibility very quickly when people expect something of you and you let them down. That’s why you shouldn’t make any promises that you can’t or don’t want to keep! Building trust takes time. But you can lose people’s trust in a matter of seconds!

How credible are you?

8 Only trusting numbers, data, and facts!

Another typical leadership mistake you should avoid by all means. If something goes wrong in your company, don’t only concentrate on numbers, data and facts. You have to really get to the bottom of things. But you can only do that if you understand the underlying emotions and motivations of people, and to do this you need to ask questions and listen – but you have to do it right.

Especially in the case of difficult colleagues, it is important to understand their emotions and motivations. Why does the colleague behave exactly like this? How does he/she see the matter? What is his/her view of reality?

Avoid drawing premature conclusions. When you convey respect you will gain trust. This way you can gather valuable information, assess the situation better, and thus avoid misunderstandings.

Do you only trust numbers, data, and facts?

9 Demanding zero mistakes!

The new manager who was just hired just made a fatally bad decision. This bad decision will cost the company a million dollars.

The company owner then calls him in for a meeting. With head lowered and sagging shoulders, the manager enters the owner’s office.

“I expect you are going to fire me.”

But the owner replies:

“Do you think I’m crazy? After I just invested a million dollars in your training?”

This anecdote wonderfully highlights how managers should deal with the mistakes of their colleagues.

Mistakes are permitted – as long as one learns from them and doesn’t make the exact same mistake a second time. Demanding zero mistakes is absurd. Everyone makes mistakes – me and you too, just as much as your employees. Managers who demand zero mistakes, get zero mistakes, too. That is because either their staff don’t report mistakes anymore or because they act according to the following saying:

“If you work a lot you make a lot of mistakes.
But if you don’t work a lot you only make a few mistakes.
And if you don’t work at all you don’t make any mistakes!”

Do you really want your staff to make no mistakes?

We all are human beings and we learn by making mistakes. Noone wants to be treated by a “Darth Vader Boss”.

How can you as a leader create a failure tolerant culture without allowing your employees to make lots of mistakes? Mistakes which may compromise safety and security of your company?

In this video I’d like to give you 3 tips on how to deal with employees making too many mistakes:

10 Giving employees no opportunities to develop!

Most people want to improve. They want to develop themselves. They want to grow and become better at what they do.

Naturally, you should give your employees an opportunity to take extra training and learn new things. But if you really want to help your employees to improve, you shouldn’t set any unrealistic goals, and you should put them to work according to their skills and strengths.

Feedback is extremely important. People need criticism and praise. Anyone who wants to improve him or herself needs sincere, constructive feedback. As manager you should recognize the work of your colleagues in a sincere way, and give them constructive feedback.

Do you do that? Do you support the development of your employees, in their efforts to improve themselves?


BONUS: 3 ways how employee motivation gets destroyed!

This video is a bonus for you: As a leader don’t focus on motivating your employees but take care that you don’t demotivate them!


The inspiring quotes

“In some South Pacific cultures, a speaker holds a conch shell as a symbol of temporary position of authority. Leaders must understand who holds the conch—that is, who should be listened to and when.”

Max de Pree


“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.”

Daniel Kahnemann

LME003 – Micromanagement? How to avoid it and get things done.

You may think you are not a micromanager. But believe me, chances are high, that you are – at least sometimes.

But why should you avoid micromanagement? How do you become aware of when you are micromanaging and what can you do to avoid it? We will have answers on all of these – and I’ll give you 5 proven tips on how you can avoid micromanaging.

Listen to the podcast episode

What is micromanagement?

A typical definition is:

“Someone who micromanages is characterised by an exaggerated attention to detail and a detailed specification and control of what needs to be done.”

But what does “exaggerated” mean in this context?  What is meant by “detailed specification and control of what needs to be done”?

When are exact specifications and controls bad and when are they not? Isn’t that all very subjective? Don’t you have to take into account the situation and the skills of the employees?

We’re going to discuss these questions in more detail today, because you can see from the above definition that the evaluation of micromanagement is not so easy.

In my coaching sessions, I’ve worked with executives who told me that they don’t micromanage. However, their employees thought about it quite differently.

Are you a micromanager?

Let’s do a test.

Answer the following 7 questions and count the “Yes” answers. But be honest with yourself!

  • Do you spend more than 80% of your working time on day-to-day operations?
  • Do you believe in the sentence: “Control is better than trust”?
  • Do you have too little time to regularly deal with long-term strategy?
  • Do you feel you are the expert in your field?
  • Do you often ask your employees about the status of projects?
  • Do you always want perfect solutions?
  • If things seem to go wrong, do you sometimes skip hierarchy levels and give instructions over other managers’ heads?

The more questions you answered with “yes”, the greater the probability that you have tendencies towards micromanagement – even if you believe that you are not micromanaging.

Why is micromanagement bad?

Micromanagers have a negative impact on employees, especially on employee motivation. But it’s also harmful for the micromanager himself.

Let’s take a closer look at these negative effects – and first of all at the effects on employees:

If you tell employees exactly what they have to do and if you check their work down to the very last detail, then they lose the fun at work.

Control results, but not the steps towards the result.

It’s ok to control results, but it’s not ok to specify and control every tiny little step towards the results.

If you don’t give your employees at least some freedom to find their own way to get the result and to meet deadlines, then this is highly demotivating and frustrating. Because – whether you like it or not – with such behavior you make it clear to your employees that you don’t trust them and certainly don’t trust their abilities.

The bad thing about this is that over time you train your employees to become dependent. After a while you wonder why your employees don’t seem to have any ideas of their own. Typically the micromanager gets the feeling

“Nothing at all comes from my employees. Creativity? Nothing. They don’t come up with their own ideas. I need to tell them everything. They’re just stupid, need to get told what to do and need to be controlled all the time.”

I’m sorry, but this is your fault with all your micromanagement. I keep saying it:

“After 2 years latest, every manager has exactly the employees he or she deserves.”

Micromanagers also often find it difficult to set priorities.

Everything always seems important and everything always seems urgent.

The employees are confronted with a flood of tasks that they cannot deal with in time. Everything is important and urgent to the manager. He’s not talking about strategy, goals or the big picture but only about small and tiny tasks in detail. The employees cannot classify the significance, importance or urgency of tasks because he’s neither giving this direction nor is he talking about why a task is important.

Why does the manager do this?

Either he doesn’t think he has the time or he doesn’t know his goals and priorities. I don’t care how: It is fatal and leads to frustration, demotivation and excessive demands on employees.

Overload of the micromanager

However, the exaggerated attention to detail and the lack of confidence in others also has negative effects on the micromanager. He believes that he must set the course and control every task and every employee.

This costs time and energy – and that is exactly why the micromanager becomes the bottleneck of his department. Everything needs to be approved by him. Tasks remain lying around because he has not yet checked and released them. He Doesn’t know how to delegate and very often he falls into the trap of upward delegation.

He takes care of every little thing and therefore does not find the time to take care of the really important things. The operational matters are really eating him up. That’s fatal.

Bypass of hierarchy

A particularly critical type of micromanagement is bypassing the hierarchy and undermining your subordinate’s authority. Let me describe it in an example:

Assume you’re the CEO of a small business. Because your business is prospering and you’ve had to hire more and more people, you recently introduced your first managers.

That makes sense, because you can’t manage 30 employees and more on your own. So you have appointed some of your best and most trusted employees as group leaders. One of these employees is now responsible for production as group leader, the other for the development group and one leads the sales group.

The only trouble is: So far, all employees have reported to you. If there were problems or if a decision was needed, whom have the employees asked so far? – Exactly: They asked you.

Just because you’ve now officially appointed group leaders doesn’t mean that your employees will automatically turn to these group leaders for questions and decisions in the future. On the contrary. After all, your employees have become accustomed to addressing you for years. So they’re gonna do the same thing for now.

Who makes decisions?

And now it’s up to you. You are no longer allowed to make all the operational decisions that you made earlier. You delegated some of them and they are now in the hands of your group leaders.

For example – if an employee from production approaches you and asks you how he should proceed with product xyz, you shouldn’t longer decide.

Instead, you should refer him to the production manager, because he is now the decision-maker. It’s his job now. It’s up to him, not to you.

If you don’t do this, you are undermining the authority of your production manager. In the future his employees will no longer take him seriously, because real decisions will still be made by the big boss, who is you.

Then why should the employee ask his group leader if he still can ask you? There is a saying which is on point:

“Talk to the organ grinder, not his monkey.”

You don’t want your employees to think your group leaders are monkeys, do you?

What if a decision is already made?

It gets even worse if your production manager has already made a decision and communicated it to his employees and you now reverse this decision with a small remark to an employee.

“John just asked and I helped him quickly and decided the matter.”

Wrong.  Without probably wanting to, you have undermined the authority of your production manager. If this happens several times, he will no longer be accepted by his employees – and it will be your fault. When in doubt, the employees ask you – the boss and not their group leader.

Perhaps your employees will play you and your production manager off against each other.

“Let’s see who gives me the better choice.”

I’m sure you know that from your parents’ house. If Dad tells me I have to be home by 10:00, I’ll just check with Mom. Maybe she’ll let me stay away until 11:00.

So, if you undermine the authority of your production manager, then he can’t take the burden off you. Because the employees do not accept it and go back to you in case of doubt. This costs you time, nerves and in the long run the production manager will quit his job.

Whoever undermines his subordinate’s hierarchies is micro-managing. Therefore, think about it:

“Micromanagement can even destroy otherwise useful hierarchies.”

Why does someone micromanage?

Mostly it’s not done because of bad intention.

Some micromanagers simply lack self-confidence. They have a strong need for security and predictability. Nothing should go wrong.

But anyone who delegates always takes a certain risk. You never know for sure whether the agreed result will actually be achieved and what will really result when you assign a task to an employee.

It’s the fear of mistakes and the risk that leads to micromanagement. In case of doubt, the micromanager prefers to control too much rather than too little or not delegate the task at all.

Are you the expert?

Then there are the micromanagers who think of themselves as the best at everything anyway. This category primarily includes managers who’ve successfully completed specialist tasks for many years. They are and were experts. But something changed. They were promoted into a managerial position. Now they have to deal with leadership and need to delegate these specialist tasks.

The problem here is:

If I was the best programm coder for years, then it’s naturally difficult for me to hand over the coding when I am now group leader.

Because I am convinced that my employees will not do the job as well as I do. So I specify every detail and I control every step of the implementation. As an expert, the risk of becoming a micro-manager is high! I used to be in the expert’s shoes and know what I’m talking about. I was a micromanager. Listen to episode 001, where I tell you my story about what helped me to get rid of my micromanagement behavior.

5 Tips how to avoid micromanagment

Starting with learning how to delegate and avoiding micromanagement is both an investment in employee training and an investment in yourself becoming a better leader. Yes, it takes time and energy – and mistakes sometimes happen. But it’s worth it. Because you as a manager get time and you get committed employees who work independently and probably exceeding your expectations in the long term

What can you do if you realize that you have tendencies towards micromanagement? How do you manage to resist your impulse to control and specify everything and specify down to the smallest detail? Here are some tips.

Tip 1: Focus on the result not the way to the result.

If you delegate, you control the result, but not the path to it. Talk about goals and priorities, but leave your employees the freedom to find their own ways. If you haven’t done yet, then listen to podcast episode002 on delegating. There, I talk about the 5 levels of delegation. They will help you to find the balance between trust and control depending on the skills of your employee.

If you have delegated a task on a certain delegation level, stick with it and trust the employee. If you don’t and you control more than you agreed, your employee will get the feeling that you think he won’t make it. You’re undermining his confidence. You don’t want that.

Tip 2: Learning from mistakes!

Let your employees learn from their mistakes. If you are an expert in your field, remember that you initially learned a lot through trial and error. Give them at least some kind of freedom to make their own mistakes.

Tip 3: The 80:20 rule!

Always ask yourself: What kind of result do I need? It’s important here: Mostly the best, the optimum result is not needed. It’s about the result that makes sense for the customer or the situation.

In most cases the result is good if you follow the 80:20 rule. With 20% of the time you get an 80% solution. If you want 100%, you have to spend 80% of the time on the remaining 20%. It seldom pays for itself.

I’LL give you an example: Let’s assume that you told your employee to write the minutes of a meeting. How important and decisive is it that the content is correct? Well, I believe we agree that this is very important. Also the correct wording can be decisive. However, whether the formatting is perfect, all rules of correct grammar and spelling are applied and wheather the minutes of meetings adhere to all rules and standards of the companies  corporate identity – all these points aren’t important. However, it can cost you and your employees a lot of time to deal with it. So don’t do it. Don’t waste time on it. Follow the 80:20 rule.

Tip 4: Write your own job description.

Think of the top 3 important things someone in your position should be spending most of his or her time on. And no: It’s surely not controlling your team. Listen to my podcast episode 001. There we talk about on what you should focus as a leader.

Now, write these 3 important things down on a piece of paper. Put it on your desk or stick it on your bathroom mirror. Put it somewhere, where you look at it at least once a day. Then review it daily or even more often. If you do so, this will help you to focus on doing your job correctly and you will recognize more easily, when you micromanage.

Tip 5: Pretend it’s the day before you go on a vacation.

Isn’t it funny? Every time when we have a deadline – like if we are going on vacation tomorrow morning – we are able to finish our tasks shortly before the deadline is due.

Yes, it’s hectic but to get out of the office, you force yourself to focus on the most critical things and on the tasks most likely only you can accomplish.

If you suspect you may be micromanaging then use this strategy. Focus on the tasks closest to you that really require your expertise. The ones only you can do. Don’t be distracted by controlling your employees. Remember: Your plane leaves tomorrow at 8:30 am. There’s no other way for you than to trust that your team has it under control. – And they will.


The inspiring quote

“Authority—when abused through micromanagement, intimidation, or verbal or nonverbal threats—makes people shut down & productivity ceases.”

John Stoker