Think about the last time you felt really foolish. Perhaps you made a careless comment that offended someone you respect. Or you literally tripped over your own feet and fell flat on your face. In both cases, you probably wished for an immediate do-over to spare yourself pain and embarrassment.

But there is one important difference between these two examples. You might have avoided the offhand comment altogether if you had given it some more thought. But the clumsy trip and fall? Probably not.

None of us are immune to the occasional gaffe. And when it happens, it helps to have a sense of humor -- so you can laugh off those moments of pure dumb luck, especially when only your pride is injured. But some of those foolish mistakes are well within your power to prevent ahead of time.

Careless leadership is costly. It is what makes employees decide to take a permanent hike. In fact, research tells us that most people leave their bosses -- not their actual jobs. And foolish errors can even sink a company's chance of survival.

Here are five common mistakes that make leaders appear foolish:

Not setting goals

Leaders who fly by the seat of their pants may achieve the occasional one-off success. But this is neither an effective leadership strategy nor a way to build a successful track record -- and is likely to make you look like flighty and unreliable. Good leaders begin with a strategy for what they want to accomplish, and communicate a logical set of goals so the entire team understands what they are working towards.

Tuning people out

Most people are taught to tune out distractions, thinking that they will be more successful if they can cut through the noise. But I have learned that these interruptions are often more important than any plans I had for the day. Perhaps a customer needs assistance, a team member requires immediate feedback, or a can't-miss opportunity crops up. By prioritizing these interruptions, I can respond to situations in real-time and stay closer to our team and customers.

Putting off decisions

Leaders shoulder big responsibilities and inevitably encounter situations that require careful thought or advice from others. But sometimes you do not have the luxury of time to mull over a decision for days. Eventually you must make a decision, even if it is difficult or unpopular -- and then act on it. Indecisiveness will make you look foolish and ill-prepared for the task of leading others, and can lead to missed opportunities and problems that will snowball later.

Hoarding knowledge

Some leaders jealously guard what they know, believing that they must be the only one privy to certain information. But hoarding knowledge is a foolish mistake -- it hampers your team's autonomy, leading to frustration and stunting their growth. Good leaders are transparent in their communication so everyone on the team has context for what is happening and the tools to make their own thoughtful decisions.

Being strong

Some leaders are under the mistaken impression that showing kindness demonstrates weakness, and that it is better to lead with an iron fist. But great leaders understand this paradox: If you want to lead, you must be humble and put others first. Checking your ego and being kind to others are smart practices that will help you maintain your perspective during challenging times and continue your growth as a leader.

Good leaders are not perfect people. I know I am not. But I try to be mindful of what I say and do. And I try to avoid those preventable mistakes. For example, as I work with the team at Aha! I do my best to gather the whole story and ask questions rather than jump to fast conclusions. 

The best leaders take their leadership role seriously. They strive for continuous improvement every day. And when they make one foolish error, they learn from it -- and then try their level best not to repeat it.

I cannot promise that you will not occasionally trip and fall or speak out of turn. But if you can avoid making as many preventable mistakes as possible, you will be able to grow as a leader -- and reduce your chances of looking foolish along the way.

Published on: Jun 28, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.