5 Leadership Mistakes I've Made (That You Don't Need To)

5 Leadership Mistakes I've Made

I love it when leaders share their success stories. It’s great to pick up transferable principles and try to work them into your life.

But there’s a part of me that likes it even more when leaders share their mistakes.

When someone shares their mistakes, I feel like I can relate to them. It reminds me I’m not alone. And it shows me we’re really all in this together.

The best part is once you’ve noticed the mistakes you naturally make, you can learn new skills to manoeuvre around them.

For all five mistakes listed below, I’ve had to adjust the sails and learn new behaviours that make me more effective at what I’m called to do.

Hopefully what’s taken me years won’t need to take you nearly as long.

Here are five leadership mistakes I’ve made:

1. Pointing out what’s wrong – not what’s right. Many leaders share a trait: they immediately notice what’s right and wrong, and gravitate toward fixing what’s wrong. I’m king of this. And ironically, it motivates me to get better. But it can end up being de-motivating to the people around you. I’ve had to learn to celebrate the wins (there are a ton of them when you look), point out what’s right and high five the team. Only then should you move to what’s wrong. Otherwise you knock the wind out of people. Honestly, this is still a daily discipline with me.

2. Thinking a leader needs to have all the answers. As a young leader, I was afraid people would notice that I was young and didn’t know as much as I should. I took me a few years to become comfortable with saying “I don’t know”. Wish I’d learned that right off the bat. Ironically, people already know that you don’t know. And when you say you don’t know, it actually creates empathy and a better sense of team.  Now more than ever, I fully realize how much I have left to learn.

3. Trying to be too original. This characterized my first 7 or 8 years of leadership. I didn’t know you could take what others have done and simply implement it (I’m not talking about plagiarizing sermons or stealing proprietary ideas here – but about ministry models and strategies that you’re free to use). I’d go to a conference and feel I’d need to change something enough to put ‘my spin’ or ‘our spin’ on it. Well, sometimes your spin makes it worse. If you really have an original idea that’s going to change things – use it. But there are smarter people who are further along than you who you can borrow from. And sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to borrow.

4.  Using people to accomplish tasks. I’m a task guy. Early on, sometimes I saw people as a means to an end, not an end in themselves. It’s a goal of mine to do what great managers do – not use people to get tasks done, but to get ‘people done’ through tasks.

5. Depending too much on my own strength. Being an A-type personality has strengths and weaknesses. Looking back, I wish I had developed a better sense of team earlier and I wished I had sought out mentors earlier. I’m still also trying to figure out the balance between Jesus’ teaching that human effort accomplishes nothing and that we need to serve and lead with all diligence. I’ll get back to you on that one. Maybe in heaven.

Those are five leadership mistakes I’ve made. How about you?

What are you struggling with? How are you overcoming?

What are you stuck on?

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  • http://twitter.com/StephWhitacre Steph Whitacre

    Thanks, Carey. I’m the queen of pointing out what’s wrong. Glad I saw this before going to the office! =)

  • Michelle

    One of my biggest leadership mistakes was having the goal of maintaining. In children’s ministry we all secretly (or not so secretly) long for the day when we wont have to keep calling people to fill vacant spots. I let that stressful piece of my job become my job. I stopped vision casting, thinking creatively about other pieces and areas of ministry, and got stuck on filling spots instead of building into people. I guess it is similar to the task oriented mistake. It helped to look at my week and break down by percentage how much time I spend on different areas of my job. When I saw that vision and future ideas got the least amount of my time and attention, I realized I needed to make a change.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Michelle, I think you’ve read the mail of many leaders. The push for change never stops, and as a leader, you really never rest in terms of finally “arriving.”

  • vabbott

    I had to overcome trying to lead like the director I took over for and find my own leadership style. The book, Lead The Way God Made You was a huge help early on in ministry. I also fall into the #5 category.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Vicki and Charlie…those are both huge breakthroughs. Self-awareness is so much a part of the battle here. Way to go.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charlie.hodsdon.7 Charlie Hodsdon

    One and five describe me. I tend to try to do everything myself, and to focus on what needs to change instead of on the wins we’ve been having. I started working on these about a year ago and the change has been awesome. Sadly It took burning few bridges and people before I caught on that I was the problem. It is so much easier to destroy trust than it is to rebuild it.