If there's one thing we all have in common, it's that we all make mistakes--some because of inexperience, some because we don't yet know what we know, and some, unfortunately, that we repeat again and again until we finally learn better. Mistakes are a natural part of learning, living, and leadership. But some mistakes can seriously sabotage your future. Here are a few to make sure you steer clear of:
Mistake #1: Believing you have to know everything and do everything to be successful. To build a successful career, you definitely need to develop expertise in your field. But when you allow yourself to think you have to know everything and do everything, you're setting yourself up to fail--plus you come across as a micromanager who doesn't trust your team. Don't sabotage your success by trying to know and do it all. Remember instead that the most successful people are those who are good at getting out of their people's way and giving their team space to collaborate and get things done.
Mistake #2: Thinking your leadership skills will develop naturally with time. You may be extremely competent in what you do, but if you don't have any leadership coaching, mentoring, or guidance, don't expect that whatever got you to your position will keep you there. If you're in a leadership role, you need to be constantly honing your skills. As a leadership coach for top executives, I see this all the time--those who get promoted to prestige jobs don't think they need any coaching. But leadership is a skill that requires constant nurturing and development. That may mean devoting some time each day to sharpening your skills, or taking a class, or hiring a coach to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and build your confidence.
Mistake #3: Falling prey to SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome). An ailment of distraction, Shiny Object Syndrome most commonly affects businesspeople with an entrepreneurial mindset precisely because of the qualities that make them unique: They tend to be highly motivated, they crave new technology and new developments, and they aren't afraid to start new projects and create new things. But if you're constantly chasing after something, only to lose interest and start in on the next thing, you're in danger of derailing your career. Once you reach a certain level, success isn't about getting new opportunities but about getting the right opportunities. The more time you spend looking for something new, the less time you have to devote to becoming your best.
Mistake #4: Putting your life on hold while you chase success. If you don't have a life, you don't have a career. Thinking that longer hours will make you more successful is a big mistake. It's not the hours you put in but the quality of what happens in those hours that matters. I have seen talented individuals who work all day and all night, and they're still not as effective as those who come in early and leave early so they can have time with their family, preserving their health and maintaining their balance. Science shows that you're at your most effective when you take breaks, nourish your body, exercise, meditate--whatever feeds your body and spirit makes you better at work. Don't run yourself ragged, neglecting your family, friends and health. You'll end up with nothing.
Mistake #5: Going after a title instead of preparing to fill a role. Those who are average go after titles instead of working to get the best results and become as effective as they can be. If you're more concerned with titles and status than with substance, you could be sabotaging your success. Sometimes you have to take a step back to position yourself to take two steps forward. Focus on building the skills you'll need for your next steps forward.
Mistake #6: Burning bridges. This may be the biggest mistake of all. You never want to become that person of whom the HR person says, "Here's a good example of how not to leave a job." When you're on your way out, it's easy to get swept up in the excitement of wanting to tell everyone what you see as wrong and dysfunctional. But that short-term satisfaction can cost you in reputation. Most fields are a fairly small world, and there's a good chance you'll run into some of these people again. As the old saying goes, leave nothing behind but golden footprints.
We all make mistakes. But be mindful of your mistakes, especially those that can harm your career. Pay attention to their patterns, and to what I call as a coach your leadership gaps. You can leverage them to your benefit, or you can let them damage your career and slow down your life's work.