The Top 5 Mistakes Leaders and Managers Make
The sooner you can break these beliefs, the better you will lead
I have coached various founders and leaders over my career, and I have noticed patterns in the mistakes they make. These mistakes are usually easy for me to spot, but hard for them to see in themselves. The biggest blind spot, especially for new leaders, is feeling like they have to be the smartest person in the room. Or like they have to be the one to make all the decisions. Or like they have to be the smartest person in the room to make all of the decisions.
This is a huge mistake.
Coach K was not a better basketball player than anyone on his team. Conductors aren’t better musicians than the members of their orchestras. CEOs are definitely not better lawyers than their general counsels (just ask my husband, who is a GC, and Greg Packer, my GC). So many of the biggest mistakes leaders make come from the idea that to manage effectively, you need to be the best person at the table. But this mindset creates more problems than it solves.
With that in mind, here are the top five mistakes founders, leaders, and new managers make. The sooner you can break these beliefs, the better you will lead.
“I need everyone to be a superstar.”
Your orchestra may have the most talented individual soloists, but that doesn’t mean it will have the best music. What matters more than individual performance is how everyone works together. According to Laszlo Bock’s study of Google teams, the biggest indicator of high-performing teams was psychological safety. It was not having the most superstars or the most technical experts. It was not being the most diverse or the most homogenous. It was making teams feel safe to be themselves and share their ideas.
As Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game showed, you can build an amazing baseball team with people who are not necessarily superstars. The biggest factor was their ability to play well together, build on each other's strengths, and augment each other’s weaknesses.
What does this mean for you? It means that as a leader, your most important skill will be to build a team and make them function as a team. You can have the best talent in the world, but if they can’t work well together, you lose out on the magic that only a team can bring to a problem.
“I need to know the answer all the time.”
Leaders are not there to have all the answers, but to ask the right questions.
A lot of times, people on my teams would ask me what they should do. I would always reply, “I have three things I can help you with: context, resources, and influence. But you and your team are spending 100 percent of your time thinking about this problem. What do you think we should do?”
When teams came to me with a problem, I rarely gave the answer, because I understood the limitations of the perspective I brought. Instead, I would help them see the context in which they were making the decision, access the resources they needed to execute, and help them sell their idea to the rest of the organization.
Context is additional information. It might be information about the business being soft, or information about a change in direction or approach. It is important to provide context based on your vantage point, because you have a broader point of view. Remember, that doesn't mean you have the answer. Your teams are probably closer to the problem than you are, but you can see broader trends.
Resourcing is a complicated thing. In many organizations, resourcing is done from a central location, and so there's much less discretion. However, you can still give advice on how to get or deploy resources. You can also move things around. This can be extremely valuable to teams who need support to execute.
Finally, we have influence. Influence is about helping your team get the support they need across multiple teams. Your vantage point is different from theirs, and thus, you're in different rooms. Using that vantage point to amplify your team’s work is critical to their success.
As a leader, context, resources, and influence are the three biggest tools you have that other people on your team don’t. Use them to help lead your teams to the answer, instead of assuming you have to know the answer yourself.
“I need to be able to do the job of everyone on my team.”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Perspectives to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.