My Biggest Leadership Mistake

my biggest mistake as a leader

My biggest strengths as a leader have been the ability to connect with my team and help them find simple solutions for problems both at work and in life. A fellow manager once said that I “effortlessly bring a method to the madness”. However, I am like most on a journey to improve myself every day. As I would rate people management as one of my key leadership qualities, this post is about my biggest leadership mistake. This is relevant as this is a very common mistake.

As an individual, I have always liked doing things the way I like. I never liked being told what needs to be done. I hated being told how it needs to be done. My biggest leadership mistake was to assume this to be a common trait amongst employees.

“To become more effective and fulfilled at work, people need a keen understanding of their impact on others and the extent to which they’re achieving their goals in their working relationships. Direct feedback is the most efficient way for them to gather this information and learn from it.”

Ed Batista, Executive Coach and an Instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Ajay was one out of the 13 members of my team. A good team player, above average performance at work, punctual and always willing to learn something new. He was very inquisitive. In team meetings, he questioned new work guidelines. He had suggestions and liked reasoning.

During a one on one performance review meeting on a Saturday, I decided to discuss his career plan. He had an inclination towards workforce management. As I helped him understand the pre-requisites for him to plan his way into the central WFM team, I stressed on the need to improve his performance for better chances of promotion. He has been an above average performer for too long. With his tenure, skills and aspirations, he could and he had to do better.

Ajay replied: “You never give me feedback. How shall I improve?”

This led to a lot of introspection for me.

Unfortunately this was true as I was not giving feedback to tenured employees in my team.

I assumed they already know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done.

I assumed, like me, they did not like someone telling them how to do their job.

However, this was my biggest leadership mistake. It hurt their chances of excelling at work. Continued average performance and increased competition from newer team members made them less confident. They perceived newer employees as a threat. Not just performance, this was harmful for team bonding and communication too.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

Bill Gates

Contrary to what I believed thus far, most people like being told how they can do their jobs better. It’s best if you can show them how to do their jobs better. Feedback that is constructive is vital to employees’ ongoing development.

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