#05 3 Crucial Mistakes You Make as a Leader and What to Do Instead

The 360 Leadhership Podcast, Episode 05, 26 January 2022 by Lucy Gernon

Great leaders are known for admitting mistakes. It’s not uncommon to make mistakes as a leader, it shows you are trying. Some of the best leaders in the world make mistakes. Leadership is challenging at the best of times, throw a pandemic in the mix or a big change, mistakes are bound to be made.

But what are the most common mistakes even great leaders make?

It’s ok to make mistakes.

Firstly, it’s ok to make mistakes. You are human. And ironically, the more human and vulnerable you are, the more people connect with you. There’s this whole thing around executive presence and companies pay a fortune to coaches to help their leaders have a stronger executive presence. But to me, leading authentically and with your heart, is far more impactful.

Very few people set out to do a bad job, including leaders. But awareness is key and learning from your mistakes is critical, especially when it comes to your team. Your team is your lifeline. When they are happy, they perform well, and doesn’t it make your life a whole lot easier?

Aren’t they the ones who do the majority of the hands on work that gets you and them recognised?

So it’s critical as a leader that you become aware of your leadership style, both strengths and areas for improvement so you can limit the mistakes you make, or learn how to handle them better when you make them.

Famous Leaders Who Publicly Admitted Mistakes

Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Zoom’s popularity exploded. This increase in users also came with an increase in security and user privacy issues. Video meetings could be “hijacked” by hackers. Mr. Yuan appeared in the media and admitted the company moved too quickly and promised the Zoom team would correct shortcomings.

Mark Zuckerberg

80 odd million profiles were accessed by a political firm which raised serious questions about privacy and collection of user data. Zuckerberg faced the Senate and it was all over the media. He took responsibility for Facebooks shortcomings and said “we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well”.

3 Crucial Mistakes you’re probably making and what to do instead

The 3 M’s: Micromanagement, Change Management and People Management. These are the top 3 mistakes that I have seen leaders make in my 20 years as a corporate employee.

I have definitely done these myself at various stages of my career but once I learned the importance of mastering these areas, I mastered my career. I got more time back for myself, I made a bigger business impact, and I had an extremely low attrition rate, I never lost a permanent team member in my 10 years as a people manager.


Mistake: Working in the business instead of on the business.

Leaders who are involved in the day-to-day fire fighting, want to be involved in every meeting, needing to know everything that’s going on, especially ones sent by important people. Getting involved in day-to-day issues that their team can handle to ensure they are in control.

Why is this a mistake? You are taking away your team’s autonomy. You are working in the business instead of on the business. As a leader, it’s your job to support your team to do their job and to be strategic. If you are consistently micromanaging and involved in every big problem, you won’t have time to be strategic and improve the business, which is what will get you recognised.

What to do instead:

  • Decline meetings where your expertise is not required and delegate e.g. department rep needed.

  • Trust your team and give them autonomy. You are important but so are they. By allowing your team to make more decisions, they grow and learn and free you up to be more strategic. There are very few decisions that can’t be reversed.

  • If you tell yourself you can’t as your boss expects you to know all the answers, I’d challenge you on that. They probably don’t. You just need to know who to go to get the info quickly, you don’t need to have it yourself.

  • Learn to be more proactive and less reactive by letting go of some of the control to allow your team to flourish and you to have more time back to be strategic. What’s the worst that can happen?

Change Management

Mistake: Not involving your team

Changes are the single most disruptive thing to a high-performing team. Every time there is a change, there is a shift in your team’s dynamic. A change might be a new leader, new system, and new structure or working hours.

The biggest mistake leaders make is deciding on the change in a boardroom, and not involving your team. The past 2 years have been challenging for leaders and have been full of change.

PwC survey indicated 65% of people were looking for a new job as of August 2021. Workers say their top reason for finding a new job is negotiating for a better salary, followed by expanded benefits and more workplace flexibility, such as the ability to work remotely full-time or on a hybrid schedule.

That’s why it’s more crucial than ever that you manage change correctly so you don’t rock the  boat.

What to do instead:

  • Involve your team. Find the influencers and help them see the benefits to them, not just the business.

  • Do not introduce too many changes simultaneously, it will cause complete chaos and unhappiness.

  • Keep your team in the loop early. Drop hints that changes are coming and ask for feedback.

  • Try to accommodate them, leaving your ego at the door.

People Management

Mistake: Deprioritizing 1:1’s and your teams development.

When the sh!t hits the fan, usually one of the first things leaders drop are 1:1’s with their team. Sh!t always hits the fan! There is  never a right time for 1:1’s but they are so crucial.

A survey in the Harvard Business Review, executives of large organizations estimated that soft skills issues were costing them over $144,500 every day. In another study by Gallup, they found 70% of the variance in employee engagement is caused by a person’s manager.

In a Harvard Business Review article about what great managers do daily, they found:

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees who got little to no one-on-one time with their manager were more likely to be disengaged. On the flip side, those who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged.”

Employees whose manager doesn’t meet with employees one-on-one at all are four times as likely to be disengaged as individual contributors as a whole, and are two times as likely to view leadership more unfavorably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.”

So not only does a lack of 1:1 meetings cause disengagement, it also makes your team think the leaders are not up to scratch, when is detrimental to attracting and retaining top talent.

What to do instead:

  1. Keeping an ongoing relationship with your team is critical. A simple monthly 15 minute chat about them will keep your relationship strong. I have seen leaders stand up for their team members or turn up 15 mins late because they were dealing with something “urgent”. It is so rude.

  2. Treat your team with respect. If you will be late, give the person the heads up and make sure they know that your time together is important.

  3. When you are in the 1:1, be present and make those 15-20 mins all about them. Not about you or how bad your day is going or what you did at the weekend or the business tasks, about them. Get to know them personally and what they want.

  4. Support your team’s career aspirations. Take notes. Listen to their development needs and actually do something to help them move forward.

  5. Don’t underestimate the power of that 1:1 relationship. If you are there for your team, they will bend over backwards for you.

Have you made any of these 3 mistakes?

How do you feel as I share this info?

If you have made a mistake, you can back track. It’s not too late. You can say you got it wrong. It is not a sign of weakness, it’s a real sign of strength.

What is your key takeaway from today’s episode? Was it the piece on micromanagement, change management or those 1:1 relationships with your team?

I’d love to know. Send me a DM on LinkedIn or Instagram or shoot me an email and we can have a chat. I love learning about my community and having chats.