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5 Leadership Mistakes Even the Best Bosses Make

They may be great and smart, and we’re thankful for their leadership. But they’re also human and will make mistakes.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 12 Jun 2017

That is unbelievable!

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If you think your boss is some freak of nature and you're the luckiest person alive, I'll break it to you gently: He or she is human and will make mistakes.

But even in the midst of their errors, the great ones rise up by either A) acknowledging they made a mistake and correcting their behavior (think humility), or B) acknowledging they have a blind spot that needs to be addressed, then doing something about it.

To get practical, let's dive into a few prevalent leadership mistakes that even the best and smartest tend to make.

1. The mistake of not giving employees a listening ear.

I recently wrote about the powerful business practice of "stay interviews." Unlike the exit interview, this concept is predicated on listening to employees' feedback to get fresh insight into improving the work environment that will help retain those valued employees today--not after they have emotionally disconnected and turned in their resignations. Leaders who check hubris at the door and listen authentically in this manner build trust, but even the smartest of leaders have this blind spot where they don't leverage active listening skills to build and support culture. The message coming across to employees is that they're not seen as important and part of the family -- a critical mistake even for the brightest leaders.

2. The mistake of not giving employees enough information.

Great leaders inform their employees when there are changes taking place. They tell them as much as they can, as soon as they can, to avoid disengagement and low morale. They give employees the pros and cons of a new strategy, and don't hold back and deliver unpleasant surprises later. When the chips are down, they reassure their employees by giving them the facts and how they fit into the big picture. They never stop asking for input and how employees are feeling about things. Finally, they deliver bad news diplomatically and tactfully, choosing the timing and approach well. Unfortunately, when even the best of leaders fail to communicate authentically at this level, consistently over time, they'll find that their people will distance themselves and lose their trust.

3. The mistake of not coaching their employees.

In the sports world, it's essential for top athletes to have a coach. But when it comes to the business world, coaching is a rare commodity. As great and smart as some managers are, they typically don't have the time or knowledge, or see the value in coaching. The belief around coaching needs to change because, truthfully, managers who are good coaches will produce greater results in less time, increase a team's productivity, and ultimately develop more leaders out of their followers. Coaching in its best form doesn't have to be a formal and fancy process requiring a big budget. Once you nail down the basics, it's simply a process of mutual and positive dialogue that includes asking questions, giving advice, providing support, following through on action planning, and making time to help grow an employee.

4. The mistake of not recognizing their employees.

Even the best of leaders will find that -- while focusing on driving the vision, implementing the strategy, setting goals and expectations, and making the numbers -- they neglect the power that comes from employee recognition. To drastically improve the employee experience, leaders need to tap into the innate and necessary human need for appreciation. It's in the human design to be acknowledged for excellence at work. Research by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Globoforce's WorkHuman Research Institute confirms this. They found that employees "working for organizations that offer recognition programs, and particularly those that provide rewards based on demonstrating core values," had a considerably higher and more satisfying employee experience than those in organizations that do not offer formal recognition programs (81 percent vs. 62 percent).

5. The mistake of a "closed door policy."

Having an open-door policy is a communication strategy for engaging your employees at a high level, but even the best and brightest of leaders forget or don't leverage this practice. One great example is Credit Karma founder and CEO Kenneth Lin. He operates with an open-door policy, which he calls a "keystone for good company communication." This is important as a company grows and starts to distance itself with its many layers. Lin says, "I want new employees to feel like this is a mission we're all in together. An open-door policy sets the tone for this. Whenever I'm in my office and available, I encourage anyone to come by and share their thoughts about how they feel Credit Karma is doing." The strategy helps loop him in to what Credit Karma employees are talking about, which improves morale and lets employees know he's a part of the team.


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