The Worst Mistake You Can Make as a Leader Is…

Throughout the month, the CONNECT2Lead Blog has focused on mistakes leaders make. You can find articles from the series here. In this post, we’re going to narrow it down to the single worst mistake a leader can make.

Surprisingly, a lot of leaders make this mistake every day. Our workplace vernacular may be to blame. That’s because we use the word “leader” as a synonym for “senior manager” when the accurate definition (“one who leads”) has nothing whatsoever to do with job title or role. Additionally, we attach qualifiers to the word leader saying things like “emerging leader” or “developing leader” instead of simply saying “leader” about anyone who leads.

This terminology suggests that only an elite few are leaders. That’s ridiculous.

Anyone can be a leader. In fact, at times, everyone has been a leader. When you are leading and others are following, you ARE a leader.

In “The Truth about Leadership,” Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner say that the First Truth about Leadership is this: You Make a Difference. YOU. Not someday you, not if-you-get-promoted you, not in-your-daydreams you. YOU make a difference.

They write “The truth is that you make a difference. Somewhere, sometime, the leader within you may get the call to step forward — for the school, the congregation, the community, the agency, the company, the union or the family. By believing in yourself and in your capacity to lead, you open yourself to hearing the call. You open yourself to making a difference in the world.”

Thirty years of global research backs up the Kouzes/Posner point of view. Leaders come in all ages and from all places.

So what does it take to step into your own leadership? Here’s what the authors found. “Before you can lead others, you have to lead yourself and believe that you can have a positive impact on others. You have to believe that your words can inspire and your actions can move others. You have to believe that what you do counts for something. If you don’t, you won’t even try. Leadership begins with you.”

It’s this belief that enables and ennobles you to be an intentional leader. Since others around you are paying attention to what you do, you may be inadvertently leading them in ways you don’t intend. Your understanding that you are a leader + your desire to make the difference you’ve set out to make = your effectiveness as a leader.

Not understanding this is the worst mistake a leader can make. People miss out when they:

– don’t see themselves as leaders,

– don’t lead themselves,

– don’t consider what difference they want to make, or

– don’t remain open to the possibility they can be a leader.

YOU are a leader. Now it’s time to see yourself that way so you can make the difference you want to make in your world.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more this month about mistakes leaders make, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.

Five Ways Leaders Get in Their Own Way

Maybe you’ve seen this happen. Maybe it’s happened to you.

A rising star flames out and can’t seem to make a comeback. He or she doesn’t understand what’s gone wrong and feels helpless to course correct. It happens to a lot of highly intelligent, talented people. It happens to leaders who show potential. It happens when people have a “blind spot” and continue to stumble over the same issues.


As an executive coach who’s worked in over 350 companies, here are the five ways I most commonly see leaders get in their own way. Every one of these career roadblocks is fixable, but only if a leader is open to recognizing and working on them.

1. Leaders who aren’t agile enough to adapt when change occurs.

Change is inevitable. Resistance is futile. Being nimble in the face of change is an absolute necessity for any leader. In your career, you’ll need adapt quickly every time you get a new boss, a new job, a new strategic initiative, a new opportunity, a new technology or a new team member. If you avoid change and frequently find yourself trying to defend the status quo, you may be getting in your own way.

Leaders who soar are comfortable with change and continuously seek ways to incrementally make positive changes. They are able to keep an open mind during a transitional period and support what may seem ambiguous or unproven at times. They help others, too, to navigate change and develop agility and openness to innovate.

2. Leaders who are not other-oriented and focus too much on their own interests.

This usually happens for one of two reasons.

Some leaders get hyper-focused on their own careers, putting their ambition to excel ahead of all else. These are the leaders who others say will step on others as they ascend the career ladder.

Some leaders focus on their own interests in the moment. They put their immediate needs and gratification ahead of others’ needs and ahead of the team’s long-term interests. The choices they make signal that they are “looking out for #1″ even to the detriment of the team.

Highly effective leaders look out for the team and for individuals. They get their own needs met, too, but never at the expense of others. They know they can only become stronger by strengthening others. They exhibit empathy and interest for what others are experiencing, and they get out of their own way by thinking of ways to support other people.

3. Leaders who are not humble enough to appreciate what others have to offer.

A leader’s lack of humility is usually evident when he or she thinks the only right answer is their own or when the leader is not open to other’s feedback. Leaders who lack humility are often masking a lack of confidence, over-compensating in ways that make others feel marginalized. They get in their own way by ignoring or defending themselves against others’ input, ideas and constructive criticism.

Confident leaders listen to others and seriously consider what they have to say. They want diverse points of view and openly acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers. They value others’ opinions and seek them out frequently. When criticized, these leaders quickly move past the initial sting and weigh the feedback objectively because they sincerely want to improve.

4.  Leaders who are unwilling to extend trust to others.

Leaders get in their own way when they are not trusting. They telegraph a general mistrust of others. They withhold information, refuse to delegate and micromanage. By doing so, they strip others of their autonomy and dignity. They disempower capable people who often leave in pursuit of a more supportive and satisfying environment.

Leaders who are able to trust delegate, develop and ennoble members of the team. They get more done by spreading the workload around. They maximize others’ output and enjoy high levels of employee engagement and retention.

5. Leaders who are not able to handle pressure and exhibit self-control in stressful situations.

Some leaders are always simmering and often erupt with little warning. They can’t handle the workplace pressures and become disproportionately emotional (angry, hostile, fearful, upset, personally offended) in ways that make others want to avoid them. They may even use their emotionality as a bullying tactic, manipulating those who are uncomfortable with outbursts and will almost anything to avoid this leader’s emotional expressions.

To get out of their own way, leaders need to maintain their composure. They need to understand how their words and actions and emotions impact others. They need to use emotional expressiveness appropriately and selectively. Strong leaders understand that others look to them to be the calming force, the steady and predictable touch point.


If you see yourself or your colleagues making one of these mistakes, try not to judge this as a character flaw. It’s not. These are behaviors, and behaviors can be changed. Awareness and desire precede change. Change requires unlearning the old ways and replacing them with new ways. A good coach can help an individual who is ready and willing to change. There’s no better investment than the one you make in becoming a more effective leader.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Our president, Deb Calvert, is certified as an Executive Coach by the Center for Executive Coaching and the International Coach Federation. For more information on executive coaching, e-mail If you’d like to read more this month about mistakes leaders make, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.

5 Mistakes Leaders Make When It Comes to People Development

There comes a time in everyone’s career when they feel they have “arrived.” It’s the attainment of a particular job, the fulfillment of a dream or the time when everything is clicking into place.

For leaders, this is a dangerous place to be. It’s a potential trap, one you will fall into if you allow yourself to become complacent. When complacency settles in, it’s only a matter of time before a leader (and/or his or her team) suddenly feel dissatisfied and less capable of handling new challenges.

That’s why it’s so important to continually focus on people development. A leader’s primary responsibility is to be a people builder. Building people is not done in occasional workshops or classes. It’s done continuously and intentionally.

When it comes to people development, leaders often make these five mistakes. If you are making any one of these mistakes, it’s time to course correct. The cost of not developing people is significantly greater than the cost of proactively developing all people at all times.

1. They don’t allow time or resources for people development. Some leaders overlook the need for people development entirely. Some say there’s no budget for development, others say there’s simply no time. There are those who also say that the work itself is what develops people. You have to step back and examine those perceptions.

First, the budget question. Development work need not be expensive. Non-profits, schools and other low budget organizations find ways to develop people because they know it’s also the best way to retain talent. People report higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction when they get development support. The costs you save in reduced turnover, recruiting and ramp up of new employees  will more than cover the costs of people development.

If there is no time for development work, then you aren’t appropriately staffed. Development should be a part of the job. When you develop people, you expand their capacity and they can do more. When you limit their development, you will always get less from each individual.

There may be some truth to the notion that development can occur while the work is being done. The question, though, is this: Is the work they’re doing developing them in the ways that benefit both the individual and the organization over the long term? Do you need people to be super technicians in the work they already do? Or do you need next-level skills, cross-functional skills and interpersonal skills to be developed?

2. They don’t provide opportunities for people to get 360-degree feedback. We all have “blind spots” or things we can’t see about ourselves. The leader can’t observe every individual in every setting either. So enlisting feedback from all those who work with an individual is the best way to truly understand what the development opportunities are. This is particularly important for people in management roles because a manager’s behaviors impact the performance and job satisfaction of others.

A quality 360-degree feedback process will maintain the confidentiality of those who participate. That way, they will feel “safe” and offer candid feedback. Effective 360s are not used for performance management and are, in fact, seen only by the person the feedback is intended for.

When a leader doesn’t offer opportunities for 360-degree feedback, it may look like there is a lack of concern for the team or a lack of interest in their feedback. Further, the leader inadvertently allows problems to continue without there being any awareness of them for the offender. Good leaders get 360-degree feedback for themselves and for others.

3. They limit access to development opportunities. For some companies, people they deem as “high performing, high potential’ earn the keys to the kingdom. The development dollars are invested in this elite group (usually a small number). The rationale behind this approach is simple, maybe even simplistic: allocate resources to the people we most want to retain, the ones we envision promoting in the near future.

Theoretically, this makes sense. It’s a way to reward those who have proven themselves. However…

Philosophically, should companies really telegraph that only a small group of employees are worth investing in? And, practically, few companies have the systems to do this well. Most allow subjective opinions to creep in and find there is little consensus on who is truly “high potential.” Further, the risk of developing only an elite few is that companies are “putting all their eggs in one basket” and have to scramble when those who have been developed later prove themselves not to have the potential or leave the company altogether.

4. They prescribe “one size fits all” development activities. The companies with the strongest pipelines of internal candidates for key roles are the ones who offer a variety of development opportunities. They:

–  create formal and robust mentoring programs,

– provide access to internal and external coaches,

– offer training on both hard skills and soft skills,

– promote cross-functional stretch assignments and programs to build business acumen,

– encourage continuing education,

– set expectations for every employee to develop and embed this in their annual goal-setting and performance review processes, and

– value learning so much that senior executives role model it by continually developing, too.

Every employee brings a unique mix of knowledge and experience. Setting up ways for people to learn from each other is smart business. Every employee learns in different ways. Setting up a variety of learning and development experiences is smart business. a “one size fits all” approach will never work and is, frankly, a waste of time and money.

5. They forget to set aside time for their own ongoing development. Leaders are learners. They don’t allow themselves to stop learning or to devalue opportunities for their own personal growth. Instead, they see every conversation as an opening to ask questions and learn. They get out of their office often to mingle with others and learn from them. They attend the same training they expect others to attend, eager to learn and understand what’s new and what’s next.

As a leader, you are expected to deliver results that move the company toward its long-term strategic priorities. Building people is the surest way to make that happen.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more this month about mistakes leaders make, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.

5 Ways Leaders Misunderstand Their Own Role

You are a leader. You may or may not be a manager, but you are already a leader.

Think about it this way. Whether you realize it or not… whether you intend for this to happen or not… people notice what you do. Sometimes, they emulate what you do. Sometimes, they ask you to take the lead and then they follow. Formally or informally, you sometimes influence and steer team members, projects and output.

As a de facto leader (regardless of title), you may misunderstand your role. After all, you didn’t sign up for the role of leader. It just happened.

You do, however, have a choice. You can lead inadvertently and haphazardly, leaving the outcomes up to chance. Or you can lead intentionally, setting the direction and being a force for positive outcomes.

But when you choose to lead, you owe it to yourself and others to understand what that means. Leaders (often those who are also titled “managers”) often misunderstand what that role entails and, therefore, limit their own effectiveness. Here are 5 common ways leaders misunderstand what it means to be a leader.

1. You think it’s your job to deliver results every day. You measure success by short-term standards like daily output or monthly quotas. You monitor your own and/or the teams’ activities, frequently consult the dashboard, and hold yourself and others to pre-determined performance standards.

2. You think it’s your job to be the most knowledgeable, most capable and most experienced member of the team. You are a problem solver, waiting in the wings to handle the tough assignments and clean up the messes. You step in to handle the most challenging work, and you enjoy showing what you know. You are the go-to person, the subject matter expert.

3. You think it’s your job to maintain the status quo. You believe “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You and your team have plenty to do, and you do it well. So, you reason, why make changes that will slow the team down or take their focus away from the work they’ve been assigned to do?

4. You think it’s your job to keep the peace. You make fair and well-reasoned decisions based on precedents and protocols. You avoid conflict and expect others to do the same. You prefer not to take a risk, especially one that will involve change or disruption.

5. You think it’s your job to keep execute the plan. You are checking the boxes. From working through a task list to ensuring and modeling employee compliance on policies, you do things by the book. You listen carefully to senior management and follow their instructions to the letter. You don’t deviate from their plan, and you don’t question their plan.

None of these five behaviors are “wrong” or “bad.” They are just not the behaviors of leaders. Leaders do things differently.

Leaders think longer term and bigger picture. Leaders build others to exceed their own capabilities. Leaders strive to discover new ways of doing things and challenge the status quo in search of incremental improvements. Leaders see healthy conflict and risk as stepping stones to a better tomorrow. They offer new ideas, encourage others to offer new ideas and embrace new ideas.

Click here to take a free self-assessment and determine whether you are more frequently acting as a leader or as a manager. Your job role may require you to be both, and your awareness of these 25 differences will help you avoid the mistakes of misunderstanding.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more this month about mistakes leaders make, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.

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