I just finished reading a well-written article about how mighty organizations fall. It surprised me how organizational failures parallel our personal lives. It got me thinking and it inspired me to reflect upon the leadership shortcomings of my past.
While my family and friends might run to my aid and list all of my accomplishments, let’s save those for the memorial service! It is much healthier for a leader to think about learning and growing for the sake of others. Some of these mistakes I committed in my twenties, others in my thirties, and unfortunately, a couple in my forties. Let’s pray my fifties are quiet in the sense of leadership mistakes!
HERE’S MY TOP TEN FAILURES IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:
1. Not Understanding the Other Side of My Strengths.
I have come to learn that fixing weaknesses (I’m not talking about character) is a waste of time. It is much more profitable to place ourselves in situations where our strengths are most appreciated and empowered. However, the other side of our strengths requires us to surround ourselves with people who round us out. In other words, I’m no longer a big fan of leaders who think they can get significant things accomplished without a well-rounded team. Go alone, go faster; go together, go farther.
2. Constantly Reaching for the Next Level.
A good friend of mine said something one day out of the blue. She said, “Christians don’t buy everything they can afford.” Her statement blew me away. I believe this should be true. It is an ideal that I have not lived up to. I’m not just addressing personal finance and material possessions, I’m also asking you to consider the realm of accomplishments, success, and the whole idea that “bigger is better.” I’ve done bigger and I know it’s not always better. As I ask some of my more wealthy friends, I’m asking you: “How much is enough?”
3. Hoping Instead of Addressing the Facts.
As my friends often hear from my lips, “Hope is not a strategy.” You perceive something is not quite right. You ignore it and rationalize that you like giving the “benefit of the doubt” but you know in your heart-of-hearts that you’re being weak. Sometimes it’s a pattern of behavior in an employee, sometimes it’s a financial trend, and sometimes it’s a bully. Good leaders always hope for the best but do not settle for hope alone.
4. Underestimating the Complexity of Hiring.
Wow. This is a big one. Please do not underestimate the importance of the right “fit” for your next hire. Once upon a time and not too long ago, I actually thought, “I’m pretty good at judging people.” So I confidently gave the green light for our organization to make some significant hires. Soon after, I ran across a statement by Peter Drucker in regard to hiring. It said something like this: “The first mistake in hiring is to think you are good at judging people and making hiring decisions alone.”
5. Putting Too Much on My Own Shoulders.
I like things done right and I am often impatient. As a younger leader, I believed everything that went right or wrong was a reflection of me. Therefore, performance was more important than leadership. Weak leaders do not accept failure by others on their team. They are too concerned about image and/or immediate results – not about the long-term development of people.
Failing is an invaluable part of learning, maturing, and finding support from teammates even in the midst of failure. Great writers such as Jim Collins, has promoted the idea that we spend far too much time studying why organizations succeed and not enough time discovering how they fail. Bottom-line, when a leader trusts in their abilities over the healthy process of encouraging and equipping others, too much weight is placed on the leader and not enough on the team as a whole.
6. Handing Out Titles Before Testing with Tasks.
My optimistic personality has often been foe instead of friend. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul warns leaders not to “lay hands on people too quickly.” Elders would actually touch another person appointing them to leadership and praying for their success. In the same way, we must be careful not to hire too quickly or promote too soon. Let a man prove himself over time and through the faithful completion of many assignments before giving him something that is much easier to give than to take away.
7. Not Learning How to Appropriately Handle Criticism.
I’m tough; I’m weak. Both are true. Growing as a leader requires one to learn how to let criticism make you better. Teaching on this topic is not the sole purpose of this article but a couple things are worth mentioning beyond popular clichés. First, realize criticism reveals many valuable insights. The key is to properly understand, evaluate, and apply the criticism. Never throw it away. If for no other reason, it gives you insight into the critic. Second, you will do well to choose what you are willing to be criticized for.
8. Not Having Enough Mentors.
For some reason I once thought having mentors meant I was weak. I now believe one who does not turn to mentors is weak. I suggest having a mentor or two for every important area of your life. It helps to have a relationship with some but it’s not necessary to know every mentor in your life. Through the advances in technology and communication, authors and teachers are now available more than ever.
9. Trying to Please Too Many People.
The only reason I tried to please everybody is because of insecurity. I didn’t know or appreciate who God made me to be. And I wasn’t mature enough to know that the best organizations have no problem saying “no” to many things so they can say, “yes” to what they do best. To be a good leader, you should know the tools God gave you, how and where to use them for the good of all, and rejoice in the fact that your Creator never expected anything more!
10. Reacting Instead of Thinking Things Through.
Your mom may have told you as a kid to “count to ten” before reacting. That’s still really good advice. Most of my reacting regrets could have been avoided had I counted for 10 minutes or 10 days depending upon what time in history we are talking about. It’s also amazing how mentors can help you count to ten and see things you would only have seen in hindsight, which of course would be too late.