Very few--if any--new leaders receive sufficient training before taking the reins. A recent survey by LinkedIn showed that 93 percent of managers feel they need more training and 47 percent never received any at all. Whether founding a company or promoted to management, so many of us make the same huge and avoidable mistakes in our early years as leaders.
I was thrust into my first team lead role at 25 years old with six full- and part-time employees reporting directly to me, all of whom I was responsible for recruiting and training. I had no clue what I was doing and made so many rookie blunders that it's a miracle I wasn't fired.
While there are an endless variety of ways to screw up, these are the three mistakes that gave me the most sleepless nights over the years.
1. Failing to establish boundaries
Human beings are complicated, emotional, and unpredictable. We have a lot of needs, and we often look to authority figures to fulfill those needs for us. That's a big responsibility.
No matter who reports to you, it's critical to establish guardrails from the outset. The people on your team are not your friends. You spend a lot of time together, which means you will (usually) care about them. But you shouldn't be hitting every happy hour and hanging out on weekends.
It's great to show support when a direct report or colleague is experiencing personal issues. Otherwise, you need to keep clear boundaries between work and friendship. If you don't, you will inevitably encounter one or more of the following:
People slacking off at work because they see you as a buddy and don't take you seriously
Other team members perceiving favoritism
Feedback about performance being taken very personally
Having to fire a friend (that is, a former friend now)
People feeling uncomfortable about the environment of jokes or behavior typically reserved for close friend groups
Reaching a level of exhaustion with people crying to you every time they go through a breakup or something similar
2. Struggling to delegate
Because no one knows how to do it quite like you, right?
When you're a "maker" instead of a manager, you are focused on your individual projects and tasks. When you enter into a leadership role, those things are no longer your priority. You. Must. Let. Go.
It may feel like you do it best and no one on your team is quite up to snuff, but if that's the case, then you're failing as a leader. Whatever your team requires to be effective -- resources, direction, moral support, tough love -- it's on you. The quality of their work is the quality of your work. When they succeed, so do you. When they stumble, you do too.
Delegation was hard for me to learn. I burned the candle at both ends for two years, trying to produce high-quality deliverables while also leading a team. I didn't trust some of my employees to handle certain projects, so they never learned.
The result? My team started to fall apart and I was totally burned out.
3. Avoiding the spotlight
If you're among the many people who abhor public speaking, like myself, then it's time to start practicing. You don't have to like it, but if you hold a leadership role, you have to do it.
You are your team's biggest cheerleader. Without making big companywide presentations or speaking up in important meetings, you and your staff's work will be invisible.
All you need is some nice-looking data, a couple of slides, and confidence. Easier said than done, I know. But practice will help, even when it's at home and your only audience member is your dog. Here are a few tips I've gathered from the presentation pros:
Move around while you're speaking instead of standing stick-straight with a white-knuckle grip on your note cards.
Embrace the nerves. It's natural, normal, and 100 percent OK to feel that way. Fighting against it will make things worse.
Practice, practice, practice. If you've rehearsed what you want to say a couple dozen times at home, you'll feel more confident and prepared. Never wing it.
Use lots of strong visuals, like graphs and GIFs. It's great for the audience, and you'll have more people staring at your slides than you. Phew!
You're going to make mistakes. Probably even some big ones.
But you know what? No one ever got better at anything by making zero mistakes. It's inevitable, and it's part of our growth as leaders and as human beings.
Strong leaders will openly acknowledge their errors instead of trying to hide from them. If you manage with this mindset, you'll learn quickly.