Three Rookie Leadership Mistakes

three-rookie-leadership-mistakesYou’ve taken your first head coaching job, executive position or perhaps even become a CEO. You are simultaneously excited and overwhelmed. You look forward to the challenge and the opportunity. In order to capitalize on your success, you’ll need to avoid these common pitfalls that frequently occur with the big promotion.

Mistake #1: Managing Versus Leading

You are used to supervising people—being very hands on. You’ve always stayed close to the work being done in your area of responsibility. You may even roll up your sleeves and do the work yourself at times. You often determine the policies, procedures and rules of the road for your department or team. The people you supervise are used to you being a strong and directive leader. You identify the hill to take and they execute. They are very loyal. Over time, your people may assume more autonomy and self-direction. But when anything major comes along, it ends up on your desk.

Managing and supervising are not the same as leading. As a new leader, your job is to create the vision, passion and motivation for your team. Where do you want to go? How will you get there? You inspire others to assume responsibility and accept accountability. You do this in a sincere manner rather than giving the cheesy, rah-rah speeches. You hire great managers and supervisors who are more directly involved with getting the job done. You develop your people. You create a high-performance culture where people are energized and creative. If you do this well, your team won’t feel like they “come to work” every day.

The most frequent complaint I hear from team members who are working for a new leader is “they need to stay out of the weeds.” That’s their way of saying the leader is still too involved in the details of what his/her managers are doing on a day-to-day basis. The managers feel micromanaged. Over time, they stop trying to make decisions because they know the leader will override the decision if they disagree.

To reach a leadership position, you’ve proven you know how to insert yourself into situations, solve problems, and get things done. Once you become a leader, you feel pressure to deliver results on multiple fronts. If you are a coach, you have to deliver wins. If you are a business leader, you have to deliver profit. You feel personally responsible, so you supervise every detail. You don’t know this, but your team is becoming demoralized, and they dread seeing you come down the hall. The irony is you feel energized by the excitement of the new challenge while your team is becoming more dispirited daily.

How do you stay out of the weeds? Recognize that your role has changed. You’ve hired great managers, so let them manage. Your job now is to develop your people. That means coaching them, not supervising them. Create an environment where your managers willfully approach you for advice when they need it instead of feeling obligated to report to you like a student called to the principal’s office. Ask your people what they need from you rather than assuming you know what they need. Be the coach, mentor and genuine cheerleader for your people. You must hold them accountable for delivering results. But if you lead rather than manage, your people will go to the wall for you.

Mistake #2: Filling Your Calendar

Most new leaders quickly create jammed calendars, running from meeting to meeting daily. They judge productivity and effectiveness by how many meetings they create and attend. Here’s the problem with this approach: It places leaders in a reactive mode. Great leaders understand the value of “staring out the window” time. They understand they cannot think about vision, strategy and the big picture if their calendar is full every hour of every day. Having unscheduled time on your calendar also allows your key team players to drop by for informal conversations, advice, mentoring or brainstorming. Many breakthroughs occur from these kinds of conversations. But they won’t occur if you are behind closed doors in meetings all day, every day.

Mistake #3: Sacrificing Wellness

View your physical exercise as a calendar appointment. Honor that commitment the way you’d value any important meeting. Leaders are often treated to very nice meals, very nice wine and very nice desserts. As the new student typically gains the “freshmen twenty” in college, leaders often put on weight with the demands of travel and the temptation of the menus of the exquisite restaurants they frequently attend. When my clients complain about weight gain due to travel, I’m fond of telling them “You know, they have salads in restaurants, too.” If you do not reserve specific time for exercise and watch your diet, you’ll end up with the “leadership twenty” before long. Most senior leaders I know exercise early in the morning so the demands of the day do not interfere.

Enjoy your leadership position. But lead—do not manage.

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