Mistakes I Made as a Leader
I sometimes look back to how I got thrust into a leadership role from a very young age, having started my first business at the age of 20. At that age, most of the people I employed were older than me and I had to learn very quickly to stay in charge on the outside even though I was unsure of the inside.
Looking back, and especially now, seeing through a behavioural lens, I can see the mistakes I made. I am not proud to say that I took a long time to learn some of these lessons and I decided to write about them as I still see leaders making these mistakes today.
A basic requirement in Behavioural Science is to view behaviours from the performers point of view. (Performer-meaning those who are actually doing the task). There are many things that influence performance – a key one has to do with the interaction between the performer and the leader. Many of the ideas we bring into the workplace have been taught to us by our own experience or someone else, not all of them are relevant and may need to be updated.
EVERYONE WANTS TO GROW OR BE PROMOTED
Some people just want to do the job and go home. But I didn’t see this because I only saw work from my perspective and from my perspective everyone wanted to grow and rise the corporate ladder. This is flawed thinking, I hear many leaders asking why their employees are not as committed as they were when they started out, the world has changed and the children we brought up, have the luxury of deciding what they value and how it impacts their lifestyle.
PEOPLE NEED STRETCH GOALS
Wrong! Stretch goals set people up for failure and not everyone can cope with them. Working with the team to come up with a goal that challenges them is a good way of doing this. Set up mini goals or milestones for the team to reach. Opportunities for frequent reinforcement create more interaction with your team, it allows them to recollect how they produced the good work, it helps them build good habits and learn from each other. And it makes the journey fun!
Applying my own standards to situations – looking at things from my own perspective I have seen many leaders “second guessing” why their team members do what they do, sometimes they apply their own filters and see things from this lens. When leaders do this, they miss out the opportunity to speak to their team members to find what is actually happening on the ground. A client kept saying that their workers on the ground are “lazy” and “not interested in the own safety” because they were frequently not wearing their full PPE. That it was an attitude problem. However, upon observation and discussion with his team members, the real issue had to do with uncomfortable gear that could be modified for the workers to use. An issue that was easily resolved.
TRYING TO FIX IT ALL IN ONE CONVERSATION
Whenever, we work with leaders on their coaching skills, their key focus is to solve problems and how they can fix things. Leaders who shape performance have greater success than leaders who just want to resolve a problem. If you are shaping, you are having many mini conversations with your team members. Many employees we speak to say they prefer more frequent contact with their bosses and shorter interactions versus long drawn performance meetings that happen once a quarter. I have done this many times under the excuse that I don’t have time and I would rather just solve it all at one go. The trouble with this is that I overwhelmed the people I was working with.
TAKING SOMETHING PERSONALLY
People being people sometimes tend to say things in the spur of the moment to someone else and in the workplace sometimes information gets distorted and passed around and eventually reaches the boss. Having children has taught me never to take things personally. I don’t know the real story unless it was said directly to me and even in those situations, I have found that rising above and giving the benefit of my doubt and practicing generosity of spirit helps me deal with situations with respect and dignity for the people I work with.
TRYING TO “SAVE” PEOPLE
Everyone has a “bug bear“ and this is mine. My need to help others gets ahead of me at times. I find myself having to pull back and after I have given someone a chance to perform, the best thing I can do is to let him/ her perform. These days, I set clear boundaries and make agreements on what is acceptable and what will send him/her out the door.
NOT BREAKING THE TASK DOWN
I would come up with a “grand plan” and then walk away and let my team figure it out on how to get there. The trouble with this is that it didn’t always get me the result I wanted. Many of us make this mistake; we focus on the end goal and don’t spend much time on the actual process that will help us get there. If you want consistency and want o replicate good performance, it is essential to spend some time working through this detail. Breaking the task down can also provide mini goal posts for people to work towards.
Someone told me this a long time ago “you can’t put a cake in the oven and keep opening the oven door to see if its done” Once you have set the task, you have to give people time to go through the learning curve to get to habit strength especially if it is a new task or project. I manage my own impatience by sometimes just taking a walk around the block or distracting myself with something else, frequently asking “Is it done?” is not going to get the task done any sooner! Some leaders tend to give a task that has been assigned to someone to another person because of this impatience. It is easy to pull a task and reassign and sometimes this is necessary. But the flip side to this is that by doing this, we could be reinforcing the wrong behaviours and punishing those who are performing, i.e. If I am doing good work and I get assigned more work because someone else is not doing the work, it could affect the quality of my work depending on how I look at it as a performer.