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20 of the worst leadership mistakes you can make

Jan 15, 2023

No one wants a bad boss. It’s a big reason why people leave organizations. If you want to be the best leader you can be and inspire your employees to stay and thrive, you should try your best to avoid these common leadership mistakes:

  1. Micromanaging and never delegating.
    Others can do the work as well as you, and they’re paid to do it, so let them figure it out and complete it.

  2. Talking over people and not listening. The team is there to provide input. Truly listen to them.

  3. Favoritism in the workplace. Don’t just reward the people you like best with the best assignments. Choose the person who will do the job well.

  4. Withholding information about the company. This creates an atmosphere of fear. Unless it’s a rumor or confidential or a trade secret, you can probably share most information transparently.

  5. Ordering people to work the way that management wants, without explanations or sharing the vision or rationale behind the change. Be open so that everyone knows the direction the organization is headed.

  6. Not following the golden rule. Picture yourself in your reports’ shoes often.


  7. Being critical to a disturbing degree. Constantly finding flaws and treating all mistakes as catastrophic (even when they’re minor) only causes harm in the form of damaged morale. Criticism can be corrosive.


  8. Putting down employees. Whether you do it in front of them or behind their backs, it only shows others your weaknesses.


  9. Being vague or frequently changing priorities. Employees need to know what’s expected of them, so they are reassured that they can deliver the work you need to be completed.


  10. Acting as if employees are lucky to have jobs. Regardless of the unemployment rate, human capital is one of the most important differentiators in the economy, and many organizations have trouble recruiting and retaining top talent. You need them as much as they need you.


  11. Not supporting employees or backing them up to others in the organization. Your team needs to know that you support their work which, in the end, is your work.


  12. Not setting an example with work habits. Do you ask employees to arrive on time, while you’re late on a daily basis? Do you work from home but don’t ever let them?


  13. Treating employees as if they do not have the intent to do great work or hold responsibility. Assume that everyone intends to do their best, not their worst.


  14. Only attending meetings with your higher-ups. You need to have frequent meetings with your team. They should be your priority.

  15. Thinking that achievements were because of you and failing to recognize that the team did it.

  16. Not addressing complaints from employees or disciplining where necessary. When someone is bold enough to complain about a bully on your team that’s limiting productivity, you shouldn’t dismiss the concern.

  17. Ostentatiously reveling in the perks of the office (e.g., a car with driver, private aircraft use, front parking space, etc.)

  18. Serving on nonprofit boards with directives and business examples as a CEO rather than a contributing board member who is equal to the others.

  19. Staying siloed in your office (virtually or in person). Connect with the people you lead and be among them.

  20. You always have to be right, or you always have an excuse. It’s okay to be wrong and say so. It’s refreshing.

Consider the messages that any of these mistakes, regardless of their severity, send to your team. No one’s perfect, but leaders do need to try their best to avoid these mistakes, as motivating a team is challenging even when you’re doing it well.

To tell how you’re really doing as a leader, an objective look can help. Consider a 360-degree survey, which asks your peers, reports and superiors how you’re doing. Follow the feedback with coaching and development to improve any problem areas and develop your team to get everyone working together better. 

Leadership development training can further address management concerns and lead to a happier, engaged and productive workforce delivering on your organization’s mission.

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With Wipfli’s Leadership Essentials, they will be. Our program is meticulously crafted to transform supervisors from capable to exceptional. Our team connects leadership training to measurable outcomes, using validated assessments, action plans and reinforcement techniques. Learn more about Leadership Essentials.

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Jennifer Mackin
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