Five Common Mistakes New Leaders Make

Updated: Jan 8, 2021



Have you been recently promoted or hired into a leadership role? Perhaps you are a new team leader or a department head. Congratulations. You are one of tens of thousands of leaders in the United States this year that has been hired or pushed up through the ranks. But with promotions and new roles-comes more responsibility, more people and more pressure. Notably, 37% of new leaders will fail or disappoint within the first 18 months. So, what can you do to set yourself and your team up for success? Well, avoid these five common mistakes that many leaders fall prey to, and you will be headed in the right direction.


Making Decisions too Quickly

As a new leader you are often expected to show quick results and big wins. You might be asked to shake things up with bold and decisive actions. You may even have some assumptions going in of what needs to be done. And so, you decide to come in with guns blazing and get right down to it.


But wait! Before you start to change, restructure and shift- make sure you take the time to understand the organization, the culture and what’s really going on under the covers.

Talk to as many people as you can listening to both their verbal and non-verbal cues to get a clear lay of the land. In fact, the more people you talk to the better. These voices and cues (because it’s often what’s left unsaid that is just as important) help provide balance and can often debunk any forgone conclusions you may have. Listening also helps foster engagement and loyalty from those around you-paving the way for your success.


Looking for clarity around what you can do? Read Michael Watkin’s the First 100 Days or take a page from some of the great leaders who have mastered this down to an art form. One example I love is Dave Lewis the former CEO of Tesco, who messaged everyone (almost 500K thought employees) in the company on his first day in the role to encourage them to email him back with suggestions on what he should do to turn their declining business around.


So, take a little time. Do your homework and then take action. Your team and your company will thank you for it.


Spreading Yourself too Thin

Yes, you were promoted or hired because they saw something in you. Because your work was exceptional. Because there was a real business need. But now that you are in the role—you feel the need to prove your worth. To show everyone that you can accomplish more. That you can come up with the next big thing. So, you up the ante and bite off more than anyone on your team can chew. Sound familiar?


Whatever you do--don’t try to conquer the world in a day. You will fail miserably.

In fact, as a general rule, Peter Drucker advocates having a plan with no more than 5 goals. Any more than this and you are spreading yourself too thin. I personally think 5 is still 2 too many. It’s better to focus and succeed than shoot for the stars and fail spectacularly.

Neil Patel, the co-founder of Hello Bar, KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg seems to concur. He has this to say, “One of the biggest lessons I learned was not to spread myself too thin. Like other entrepreneurs I love trying to do multiple things at once. But once I learned to focus my time and energy into one business, I was able to make it grow faster than all of my previous businesses.”


Assuming If You Know -They Know

Time and time again I hear stories about how leaders and managers thought everyone on their team was on the same page. Surprise, surprise--their team didn’t feel the same way. You may have drafted up a nice deck outlining your goals. You may have even shared them out with everyone on one occasion. But don’t assume this means that people around you are clear on what these goals mean for them.


The people in your organization want to know how their work contributes to the greater goal of the company. But all too often, there is far too little communication around this. You may ask people on your team to perform tasks—but they may see this as busy work if they don’t have a deeper understanding of how it all fits in.


I generally live by the rule of 7. Meaning you should tell folks the same thing seven times, seven different ways. Harvard Business professor Tsedal Neeley researched the use of communication from managers and not surprisingly found that managers that communicated the same message more through multiple media, got better results. So be sure to communicate well and often. It will not only get your message across; it will help provide employees with the direction they need to help you and the business succeed.


Doing vs Delegating

You may think you can do it all yourself. This is especially true for new managers and leaders. You’ve got a lot of experience under your belt after all. Faced with helping members of your team learn what’s needed vs. doing it yourself—you may opt for the latter to save yourself time.


But don’t fall into this trap. Not only will you be doing your employee a dis-service by making it difficult for them to get better at their craft, you’ll also be making it impossible for yourself to scale and grow.


According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management, “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.”


As a leader you need to trust in your team, delegate wisely, provide clear direction and help your employees stay on task so they can do their best work. While doing it all yourself may work for you in the short-term—it’s a recipe for disaster over time.


Managing Up but Not Down

Many new leaders spend a lot of their time managing up. They work to establish their presence and make their voice heard. It’s necessary after all when you enter a new role. But oftentimes this is done at the expense of managing down. And what is notable in a recent Careerbuilder.com survey, is that over 58% of newly promoted managers have absolutely no management training. Meaning they have no idea how to manage people. And if you don’t know how to manage people-you will have no clue how to manage down.


Now when I say manage down—I do not mean micro-manage. Effective leaders are the ones that foster creativity, engagement, a sense of purpose and results. But this requires open lines of communication and effective mentorship. So be sure to take the time to spend just as much time having one-on-ones with people reporting to you as you do with those you report to or work with. Understand what motivates your team, what their aspirations are (and no-not everyone wants to be promoted) and work together to define clear goals. Have an open-door policy so that your team members can come to you with ideas and feedback. Send them on training courses and truly invest in their development and growth. Doing so will not only make you a more effective leader, it will make your whole team more effective. And that’s a win-win all around.


The Net of It

Taking on a new role is hard work. Managing people can be trying. But leading is also incredibly rewarding when done right. So, do it right. Avoid the common pitfalls so many new leaders make and set yourself and the people around you up for success.






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