Leadership is a tricky path, and for inexperienced leaders, it can be intimidating. While every person's leadership style is unique, and no approach to leadership is perfect, there are certain critical mistakes that can compromise the respect and effectiveness of your team. For the most part, the tenets of leadership must be acquired through discipline and experience, but there are a series of pitfalls that you can learn and avoid in order to maximize your potential as a leader.
If you're just starting out as a leader, be that in a position of management or direction, or if you're just trying to perfect your own approach, be wary of these dangerous leadership mistakes:
1. Not providing feedback.
Leaders exist to provide feedback. In most cases, you'll be the most experienced or most knowledgeable person on the team, and in all other cases, you'll be the one people look to for feedback and support. It's a crucial role that you'll need to play if you want to nurture the best in your team and nip any problems in the bud.
The biggest potential pitfall here lies in personal appeal; many bosses are afraid to give their employees negative feedback because they fear it will compromise their motivation or make them resentful. On the contrary, giving negative feedback in a positive way can encourage confidence as well as performance, so long as you follow up and acknowledge improvements along the way. If you want your team to perform their best, you have to be there to guide them--with negative feedback as well as positive.
2. Not being clear about your vision.
As the leader of your team, it's your responsibility to establish and reinforce a vision. In some cases, this is a vision for the entire company, and in others, it may just be a vision for a simple campaign. No matter what the scale, your vision is going to set the tone for your entire team, and if you fail to set that tone, the entire mission may be compromised.
Even if you assign and delegate the individual tasks that will help your vision come to fruition, if your workers can't see the broader impact of their individual responsibilities, they may become demotivated or unwittingly deviate from your plans. Establishing your vision also opens it to feedback from the team, who may be able to provide a second set of eyes on your ideas and improve them for the better.
3. Failing to understand true motivation.
All leaders understand that it's their responsibility to motivate their team, but not all leaders understand that motivation isn't the same for every team, and it isn't the same for every individual. Some employees will be motivated by money, and a raise or a bonus will be sufficient to keep them invested in their work. Others will be motivated by praise, seeking a pat on the back for a job well done. Others are motivated by a challenge, or a goal, and still others are motivated by the strength of the overall team.
Simply putting up a motivational poster, or giving a daily pep talk, or giving bonuses and rewards to your employees isn't enough. It's your job as a leader to understand what truly motivates the individuals within your team, and provide that motivation throughout your project or campaign.
4. Not playing to the strengths and weaknesses of your team.
All teams have strengths and weaknesses. Your goal shouldn't be to build a team with nothing but strengths--that simply isn't going to happen. Instead, your goal should be effectively managing the strengths and weaknesses of the team you do have.
For example, pair your team members up according to their complementary abilities. If you notice your social media marketer is brilliant when it comes to timing and engagement but lacking in writing skills, bring your writer in to fill the gap. If you find that your writer is skilled in technical elements of writing, but isn't coming up with great topics, have your SEO analyst step in to help him/her out. Use your team members in groups to get the most out of every element of your business.
5. Lacking a goal structure.
Leadership is a matter of directing individuals toward a series of accomplishments. If those ideal accomplishments aren't defined, your team won't know what they're working for, and their work is likely going to suffer as a result.
Setting an overall vision is one element of this, but you also need a clearly defined goal structure. That means having a big, central, long-term goal, dozens of smaller, incremental goals, and some intermediary goals in between. When your team meets a goal, celebrate the accomplishment. When your team fails to meet a goal, investigate to determine why, and work together to meet the next goal in order. Goals will keep your team on track, and will give you a backbone for all your internal tasks and individual efforts.
6. Being impersonal.
There are those who would argue that personality doesn't have much to do with success in the working world. After all, making small talk doesn't necessarily make you work more efficiently. However, being an impersonal leader can have detrimental effects for your team. If you are seen to be cold or impersonal, your team members will be intimidated by you, and may feel that they cannot bring important matters to your attention. They may also, by extension, feel as though they are not valued.
The solution to this is to go out of your way to be on friendly terms with your team. Ask them how they're doing. Be open to humor, and showcase your personality out in the open. Don't try to turn every team member into your best friend (since that has negative consequences, as well), but do cultivate positive, human relationships in the office.
7. Trying to do everything yourself.
This is a common problem among entrepreneurs, especially those who are new to such a position. You have a team for a reason, and it's important to utilize them.
One common motivator for trying to do everything yourself is a belief that you're the only one capable of handling the task at hand. You may see your employees as unable to handle a responsibility due to a lack of experience or innate ability. However, if this is truly the case, you may have a fundamental problem in your team. You need to build a team that's capable, a team that you can trust to handle these tasks. If you can't, you may need to do some restructuring, but before you make any hires or fires, take a deep look at yourself and ask if you're merely holding onto the tasks yourself because you're afraid of giving up control.
You'll never be a perfect leader, and you'll never have a perfect team. Be aware of your habits and characteristics, and definitely adjust them to avoid mistakes like these, but don't micromanage your leadership style to the point that it becomes overcomplicated. Your approach needs to be natural to some degree, and don't sweat it if you slip up from time to time. The longer you spend in a leadership position, the more you'll learn about what works and what doesn't for your team.