Bad leadership: 10 mistakes every great leader avoids

By Robert Half on 5th September 2016

Do you aspire to be a business leader? Many professionals dream of climbing the career ladder and reaching a position where they can manage of their own team. However to become a successful leader there a certain qualities you need, some of which must be developed over time.

Being a business leader requires a conscious effort to monitor your behaviour and your leadership traits to ensure you haven't developed any bad leadership qualities. When you're in a leadership role, you're there to provide an example for people to follow. It's all too easy to make mistakes.

A UK Government study into leadership in 2012 found that ineffective management is costing UK business approximately £19 billion per year in lost working hours, and 56% of corporate failures are caused by incompetence or bad management of the company directors. The same study found that 43% of UK managers rate their own line manager as ineffective.

Related: 8 signs you're a bad boss

For managers looking to improve, knowing how to avoid these bad leadership mistakes clearly gives you an advantage in business. If you're aware of the various pitfalls, you will be more likely to recognise if you yourself fall into bad habits and adjust your leadership style accordingly.

Here are ten bad leadership mistakes to avoid if you're working in a leadership role:

1. Micro-managing employees

If you don't give employees some decision-making ability and autonomy, they will not remain with your organisation for long. At the same time, you'll burn yourself out rushing around trying to control every member of the workforce and dictate their actions. One of the key leadership lessons from Sir Richard Branson was focused on the art of delegation.

Read all the leadership qualities Sir Richard Branson values

2. Being a know-it all

Nobody in business has all the answers, and nobody is always right. People who pretend they are all-knowing and never make a mistake are very difficult to work for, and with. They find it hard to win the respect and trust of their employees. It's important to be open to suggestions, and where possible, adopt a collaborative decision-making approach.

3. Hiding in the office

The best leaders and managers are not only visible in the office, but they engage with employees and get actively involved. As far as leadership mistakes go, this is important as you need to set a positive example for the workforce, rather sitting in their office behind a shut door. It's important to be more than a distant figurehead.

4. Being too friendly

At the same time, you can't be too friendly with employees. This is a bad leadership mistake; a certain degree of distance is needed so you can retain your authority and lead your team effectively. Otherwise you risk subordinate employees jeopardising the performance and productivity of your team.

5. Demanding results

Employees are unlikely to respond well to demands for improved performance. Leadership qualities like this are essential for operating a successful business. Positive results and good practice needs to be encouraged by nurturing staff, supporting them and reinforcing desired behaviours. Sometimes it will be necessary to offer constructive criticism to underperforming employees can do better, but it's important to be sensitive and empathetic.

6. Sitting on the fence

Difficult decisions regularly need to be made in business, and it's up to senior members of staff to make them. If you're indecisive, and unwilling to commit to one course of action or another, this creates a leadership void. Your authority will be undermined. If you're in a leadership position, you need to make decisions and be accountable for the outcomes.

7. Taking credit for other people's work

If an employee makes a valuable contribution or comes up with a great idea, the last thing they want to see is their boss steal it off them. By doing so, you'll crush morale and the performance of the employee and team. Allow employees to have their moment in the limelight and take credit for their own achievements.

8. Recruiting ordinary people

If you're going to drive your organisation forwards, then it's important to avoid making common hiring mistakes. As a leader or manager you’re expected to have the ability to look for exceptional people who are prepared to go the extra mile and aim for fantastic results. If you settle for average people, you'll usually get average outcomes. Always look to set the bar high when you are recruiting for skilled professionals.

9. Neglecting your own development

A bad leadership mistake that can let down the best leaders and managers is neglecting their own career development. Failing to upgrade your leadership skills and competences can put you in a vulnerable position. To be a thought leader, you need to be someone who understands the sector and role better than the people working for you. If you overlook training, coaching and mentoring, your skills and knowledge may become obsolete.

10. Being inflexible

As you progress your career, an essential part of career development is honing your leadership qualities. However, one leadership mistake many make is the failure to adapt and change. The best leaders need to adjust their leadership style to suit the needs and personalities of their teams. Not just changing one quality, but adapting all their skills to fit and suit the scenario they operate in.

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