For every success, there is an epic failure. Those leaders who achieved greatness did so not because of their success stories, but because of the lessons in failure that they learned and applied to create those success stories. In other words, leaders find “right” only after navigating through a storm cloud of “wrong.”
Before assuming the reigns of your next venture, run through the following checklist of no-no’s from mistakes made by others — so you don’t have to:
- Setting a tense tone.
Stress and tension are no fun, and how a leader chooses to show up every day is everything. Positive or negative, cordial or rude, your people will embrace and spread “you,” intentionally or not.
- Getting buried in BS.
The best missions we ever conducted in the SEAL Teams were not complex, but very simple and straightforward. Similarly, business execution requires as few processes and steps as possible to reach critical mass and be effective.
In the book, Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution, the authors cite the fact that “managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 percent to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings.” If you want to be a more effective leader, spend your time where it counts — on people and relationships.
- Trying to get too much done.
Newly appointed leaders who recently left the bowls of senior management where their tasks were more executorial and moved into positions of leadership oftentimes share common problems: they didn’t get the memo on how to lead. In other words, their vision of the organization doesn’t expand as it should, and they try to use the same management techniques they’ve always known in a new capacity.
Believe it or not, there is a gap to bridge between being a senior manager and being “the man,” and that gap is where delegation — rather than action — lies.
- Becoming the “anti-successor.”
Some leaders like to leave their own marks on a company’s history by erasing their former leader’s initiatives and accomplishments. While wanting to create value is one thing, dishing away with a successor’s routine just to do it entails selfishness and conceit, whereas strong leaders aim to embrace and build.
- Forgetting that “it’s about the people, stupid!” (and not the product/service).
A service exists because of the people behind it, the personalities that attract customers, the work ethic of the team, and the creativity that spurs a new day every day. If you substitute product for service, the same source of excellence exists: people. If you want your business to flourish, then you need to focus on how to attain, train and retain talent.
- Not tolerating failure.
It was Mark Twain who said, “Good judgment is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgment.” I hate to say it, but failure can — and should be — welcomed. While accepting failure is not the aim here, understanding the difference between what happened and what was supposed to happen is integral to learning and improvement.
In the SEALs, we conducted after-action reviews (AARs) following every major training evolution and mission (unless it was just boring) for two reasons: to learn as individuals and to learn as a team. Everyone shared their insights about how they could’ve made their individual contribution better and in doing so they raised the bar for the next time around. Failure is an awesome learning tool — as long as you don’t accept it.
- Talking about the past.
New leaders need to do just that — lead — because nobody wants to hear about yesterday. Yesterday is over. Instead, people want to know what their new fearless leader is going to do to create value for them. When was the last time that blame created any value for anybody other than themselves? Exactly.
- Keeping a lid on things.
One of the worst mistakes a leader can make is to believe that he or she should have all the answers because they’re the leader. Knowing everything is not your job, but setting the environment that enables information to be shared is.
It’s hard employing a self-critiquing lens to learn from personal success, but we can all try to flatten out the learning curve.
You can also see if Leaders are made or born in this blog post, Nature vs Nurture.