The Biggest Mistakes Team Leaders Make

The Biggest Mistakes Team Leaders Make post image

Go into almost any company and ask employees what annoys them most about the leaders in charge, and the list is unlikely to vary all that much. I love this Harvard Business Review video,The Biggest Mistake a Leader Can Make. Watch it, and I guarantee you’ll be singing along. 

In fact, you may even think:

See that! I’m a great leadership thinker too. I would fit right in on that video.

Why yes you are. Which is why I’m inviting you to play along with our next crowd-sourced adventure: A look at the biggest mistakes team leaders make.

“If I had my life to live over again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.”
~ Tallulah Bankhead (YouTube)

The team leader’s job is arguably the toughest job in most companies and organizations. Team leaders operate under constant pressure- up-down-and sideways- coupled with limited control. Just as the HBR crowd found remarkable consistency in the biggest mistakes leaders make at the top, I’ve found similar consistency with the mistakes team leaders make at the front line. It’s not the same struggles that happen in the leadership stratosphere, the pressures vary and so do the mistakes. Here’s a few that come to mind. What would you add?

The Biggest Mistakes Team Leaders Make

  1. Under-communicating the big picture – People don’t understand WHY they are being asked to do what they do. The team yearns for meaning to inspire their work.
  2. Failure to identify a galvanizing goal – Teams need to know that THEY can make a difference based on their actions. It’s a mistake to think that the company mission will be enough to rally the team at a local level.
  3. Over-telling – If leaders keep giving away the answers, they’ll keep asking, and you’ll have one brain at work instead of ten. Ask more questions. Leverage each team members’ strengths to cull-out their leadership. Encourage them to work together and support one another.
  4. Avoiding the tough Conversations – It’s easy to look the other way, or to let poor performance slide. Not telling people the truth will hurt your results, drag down the team, and stagnate growth.
  5. Lack of Connection – Too many team leaders get scared off by the HR warnings about not getting too close to their team. They manage them like employees instead of connecting as humans. Always err on getting to know your team and how they roll. Sure you should be careful of hanging out with them as traditional friends, but ensure your conversations are real and heartfelt. Your team will connect with customers and the work that they do, if they are first connecting with you and with one another.
  6. Succumbing to gravity – Team leaders can’t change everything but they can change some things. Your job is to remove road blocks. If something feels stupid, it probably is. Do what you can to manage up and sideways to make your team’s job easier.
  7.  Short-Term Focus – It’s always urgent, and there’s never time for the long-term investment in people and processes that will impact the business. This can work for a week or so, but beyond that you’re doing substantial long-term damage to your team. Ensure every day includes real work toward longer-term goals.
  8. Accepting What Is – Leaders see what’s possible. It’s easy to get caught up in the way we’ve always done things, particularly if you have a formula that works. If you’re creating break-through results and turning heads, slow down, look around and talk with your team about what you could be doing differently.
  9. Your Turn
  10. Your Friend’s Turn (please pass along and ask others to help)

Let’s Write A Crowd-Sourced EBook

We can leverage our collective experience, scar tissue, stories and wisdom to accelearate the learning for front-line leaders. Here’s my thought. We use this post to identify and rank the biggest mistakes team leaders make. Take my list, add, delete, or prioritize in your comments.

Then I’ll take the most popular topics and write posts on them in the coming weeks, again you weigh in with your insights and stories. Then, I turn the lessons into a free ebook available to all subscribers. We all have something we can use for ourselves and with our teams. Who’s in?

Your turn. What are the biggest mistakes team leaders make? Which mistakes should we include in our crowd-sourced ebook?
Filed Under:   Career & Learning, Energy & Engagement
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Bob Whipple "The Trust Ambassador"   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

I would add “Failure to create a culture of low fear” because fear is the one thing that will kill trust, and trust is vital for any team.

Karin Hurt   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Bob. Excellent.

Steve Borek   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Lack of trust and credibility. Leaders who don’t do what they say they would do. Followers are always watching the leader.

Karin Hurt   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Steve, Thanks so much. I agree very important.

Aparna   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Inability of motivate and empower the team members – in my view this is one of the main mistakes of most of the leaders.

Karin Hurt   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Aparna, Thanks so much for weighing in. Great ones.

Rokhaya Daba FALL   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Adjusting with the cultural behavior of your audience is one of the powerfull attitude of a leader particular when he or she is dealing accross the word with different nationalities. Interacting often with your team can be seen as a weakness in some countries where people need more to be directed and see the leader as the one who will , at the end , provide solution of any incoming problem.
Cultural differnces is a big issue also when you are dealing with some people from the country that use to have the colonial power of your orginated country.

Karin Hurt   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Rokhaya, You raise some very important points here. I am certainly coming from a US bias. I’m curious do you see this evolving at all in your country?

bill holston   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

What a fantastic idea. I believe very firmly that our greatest weaknesses are the flip sides of the coin of our strengths. I am a fairly natural encourager, and a positive person. So, I tend to shy away from constructive criticism. I want to maintain morale. this is especially true in the non profit world, because I know no one is getting paid adequately.

Karin Hurt   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Bill, Thank you. I so agreed that our weaknesses are the flip side of our strengths…

Terri Klass   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Great points, Karin and I especially like #1- not telling the team the “why” or big picture. I have seen this derail many a team going through change or transition.

I would add not taking the time to coach or mentor their team members to help them grow in their careers may be a big mistake for team leaders. In working with younger leaders, I find there is an incredible desire to understand their career paths and whether or not they are moving in a direction that will get them where they want to go. Asking empowering questions and listening to what passions they may have could be just the motivation needed for higher performance.


Karin Hurt   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Terri, Terrific add. Thanks so much.

Rick Foreman   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

I think lack of humility and understanding that the best leaders serve. The ability to know the “why” factor and “purpose” for what you do is important.

bill holston   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

great points!

Karin Hurt   |   19 May 2014   |  

Rick, thanks so much for weighing in.

LaRae Quy   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

What a great idea, Karin! I love the idea of a collaborative eBook on the biggest mistakes team leaders make!

I’m thinking you’ve been a collaborative project or two that will bring lots of ideas to mind!!!!!

Karin Hurt   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

LaRae, Indeed. ;-)

Alli Polin   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Team leaders struggle when they dictate the path instead of keeping the team focused on the goal. Drafts come back red-lined left and right, people feel micromanaged and all choice, trust and empowerment is removed from the equation. Team leaders need to be strict with the WHAT and flex on the HOW.

Great list, Karin!

Karin Hurt   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

Alli, Excellent. That’s going in the book for sure. I’m working on the micro-management post first ;-)

Kimunya Mugo   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

A great idea for a collaborative book Karin.

I would add one mistake that many leaders, including myself, make on a regular basis. That is selfishness. It is the thinking that people should always subscribe to my way as I have the vision and big picture sorted out. This happens especially when a leader doesn’t want to get out of their comfort zone.

Karin Hurt   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

Kimunya, That’s such a good addition. Thanks so much.

Chery Gegelman   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

Great post Karin and great insights from all of the contributors as well. (I kept wishing for a thumbs up button!)

Not knowing or owning your own weaknesses.
Then not hiring or unleashing people that have gifts you don’t.
Not knowing or unleashing the strengths of the people on the team.

Karin Hurt   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

Chery, Those are some fantastic additions! Thanks so much.

Randy Conley   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

Hi Karin. I would add that team leaders have get too focused on the content (tasks, work, activities) of the team rather than paying attention to the process (how the team is functioning, team dynamics, morale, etc.). It’s important for team leaders to be able to mentally step outside the daily activity of the team (the “what”) and improve the “how.”

Karin Hurt   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

Randy, Thanks. I so agree. Stepping back and improving “how” can make all the difference.

Anil Saxena   |   20 May 2014   |   Reply

One Mistake I’d add is not connecting each person’s role to gaining/retaining customers. It is about helping people see the meaningfulness of their role vs. just a job. Leaders need to help everyone see the impact of what they do.

Terry Burton   |   21 May 2014   |   Reply

Not engaging the team to co-create the vision, the “why.” I want them to act from personal ownership and commitment, not just compliance.

Karin Hurt   |   21 May 2014   |   Reply

Terry, That’s a great one. Thanks so much.