The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make [Book Summary]

The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make [Book Summary]


Mistake #1: Having a Top-Down Attitude

The top-down leadership style is all about command and control.  The top-down attitude places the leader as the most important person at the top of the organisational pyramid.  It is domineering and autocratic.  It is the opposite of empowerment.

Effective leaders on the other hand see themselves at the bottom of an inverted pyramidServant leadership is when the leader puts the organisation's well-being ahead of his own.

Mistake #2: A 'Type A' Personality: Putting Paperwork before Peoplework

A 'Type A' personality is a set of characteristics that includes being impatient, excessively time-conscious, insecure about one's status, highly competitive, hostile and aggressive, and incapable of relaxation.  'Type A' individuals are often highly achieving workaholics who multitask, drive themselves with deadlines, and are unhappy about the smallest of delays.  They have been described as stress junkies.

People tend to be either task-oriented or people-oriented.  Leadership is essentially a people business.  Yet in the information age, the leader is bombarded with an increasing barrage of paperwork, including such devices as notebook computers and blackberries.

Here is a simple test to discover whether a person is task-oriented or people-oriented.  When someone walks into your office and interrupts your task at hand, how do you react?  Do you view that person as an interruption or an opportunity?  Does your face brighten as your people antenna powers up, or do you grimace inside at this "interruption"?  If you relax and converse until the chat has natural closure, you're obviously a people person.  But if you press to squirm your way out of the conversation with a bombardment of verbal and nonverbal clues, then you are one of the dreaded Type As.

Mistake #3: The Absence of Affirmation

Organisational researchers have been telling us for years that affirmation motivates people much more than financial incentivesPeople thrive on praise.  It does more to keep people fulfilled than fortune or fame could do.

Give your staff a pat on the back for a job well done.  We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch of kindness.  It is a huge leadership mistake to neglect this emotional support that your followers so desperately need.  It is the source of high turnover in many organisations, as people leave to find more empowering leadership cultures.

Mistake #4:  Not Making Room for Mavericks.

A maverick (or pioneer) is "an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party".  The word comes from the 1870s when a famous pioneer in the wild western US refused to brand his cattle.  His name was Samuel A. Maverick.

The lifestyle of every organisation moves from passion to paralysis over time, and it is the pioneer spirit of a maverick that saves it.  Organisations have this nasty habit of becoming institutions.  The older an organisation gets, the less room there is for the entrepreneurially gifted.  Mavericks are messy by nature, and calcified organisations chew them up and spit them out with their rigidity.  One of the best ways to take the wind out of the sails of visionaries is to send their ideas to a committee.  Make room for mavericks - don't allow your policies and procedures to stifle your brightest stars.

Not all troublemakers and malcontents are true mavericks.  Some are just a pain to have around and don't do anyone much good.  Learn to recognise the true mavericks:

  • They care not just for their own ideas but for the goals of the organisation;

  • They are making a difference in their present position;

  • They are willing to earn the right to be heard;

  • They are influencing others and producing good results.

Encourage mavericks by:

  • Giving them a long tether - they need space to soar;

  • Put them in charge of something they can really own;

  • Listen to their ideas and give them time to grow;

  • Let them work on their own if they wish;

  • Leave them alone and give them time to blossom.

How to stifle mavericks in your midst:

  • Create as many layers of management as possible for decision making;

  • Keep looking over their shoulders;

  • Make your policy manual as thick as possible;

  • Send everything to committees for deliberation;

  • Make them wait.

Mistake #5:  Dictatorship in Decision Making - "I Know All the Answers"


  • Hoard decisions;

  • View truth and wisdom as primarily their domain;

  • Restrict decisions to an elite group;

  • Surprise their workers with edicts from above;.

Dictators deny the value of individuals.  Dictators use people, they do not empower them.

On the other hand, facilitators:

  • Delegate decisions;

  • Involve others as much as possible;

  • View truth and wisdom as being distributed throughout the organisation;

  • Are developers;

  • See people as their greatest resources for ideas that will bring success;

  • Give their people space to make decisions;

  • Let those who are responsible decide how jobs will be done (the one who does the job should decide how it is done).

Mistake #6:  Dirty Delegation

Dirty delegators constantly watch workers over their shoulders and cannot relax and let go of the task.  Leaders who cannot let go of delegated projects are insecure.  They worry that no one can do the job as well as they can.  Ultimately their hang up is that they don't believe in the abilities of other people.

Nothing frustrates those who work for you more than sloppy delegation with too many strings attached.  Giving an employee a job without the space to complete it is demeaning.  This behaviour communicates to an employee that he or she is a child who cannot be trusted.

In the 1950s the Harvard Business Review ran an article from which the expression "get that monkey off my back" arose.  Every time you give a job to someone, picture yourself putting a monkey on his or her back.  When a coworker comes into your office with a problem, if you say "Well, let me give it some thought", or "I'll see what I can do", or even worse "I'll take care of it", then his monkey jumps onto your back.  If this process repeats itself several times a day, your back will be overburdened with monkeys and the noise unbearable.  You need to have an imaginary sign over your doorway that says "Did they take their monkey with them?"

Mistake #7: Failure to Communicate

Communication systems are the arteries in an organisation.  Without good blood flow, an organisation can become sick.  Leaders must make communication a vital aspect of every day and must communicate in four directions: inward, outward, upward, and downward.

  • Never assume that anyone knows anything.  Most of us live in the dark about what is really going on in the organisation.

  • The bigger the group, the more attention that must be given to communication.

  • When left in the dark, people tend to dream up wild dreams and rumours.

  • Communication must be the passionate obsession of effective leadership.

Here are principles that help you avoid communication chaos:

  • Have face time with your leaders.

  • Off-site meetings for team development that include play as well as work.

  • Make internal communications a top priority for your job.

  • Keep your followers informed as to what you expect of them.

  • Find ways to articulate and communicate your vision and values.

  • Make sure that formal communication systems are in place.

Mistake #8: Missing the Clues of Corporate Culture

This mistake applies to CEOs that have been recruited into their position and who are hence new to the company that they are now leading.

Every business has its own culture.  Corporate culture is "the way we do things around here".

  • Never underestimate the mighty power of your organisation's culture.  It is impossible to initiate change in an organisation without first understanding its culture.

  • Cultivating and changing culture should be one of leadership's top priorities.

Mistake #9:  Success without successors

As CEOs, we love to think that we are unique and irreplaceable as leaders.  But the fact is, we will have to move on some day and leave our legacy to someone else.  The last great task of any leader is to work towards a replacement who will pick up where they left off.  This task should not be left until the last year of one's tenure, but should be an ongoing process of mentorship.  Finishing well is an important measure of success in leadership.  Letting go of leadership is like sending your children away to college:  it hurts, but it has to be done.

Mistake #10:  Failure to focus on the future

An effective CEO should live by the motto, "If it works, it's obsolete".

Being a leader is a lot like driving a sports car over a narrow, winding mountain road.  What's around the next curve?  What is just over the horizon?  It could be the greatest opportunity we have ever stumbled upon or a cow in the road that spells disaster!  When it comes to the future, whether it's good or bad news, it's my job to see it comingA leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do.  Leaders get paid to think about the future.