By Tony Bridwell, Partner at Partners In Leadership and author of the book, The Kingmaker: A Leadership Story of Integrity and Purpose
To avoid these mistakes, leaders should consider applying two simple guiding principles: it's about the people; it's about learning.
These principles increase a leader's ability to influence others at an effective, sustainable level, thus, driving higher engagement and maintainable results.
Make the mistake of ignoring these principles, and failure is sure to follow.
It's About the People
Mistake 1: Not knowing that you are always in the people business
It seems the first critical mistake leaders, especially new leaders, make is they forget about the people. Most leaders talk a good game when it comes to their people, but only a few truly deliver an authentic people experience.
You can put leaders into one of two camps when it comes to people: the "me first" camp or the "others first" camp.
The "me first" leader is covered in a thick coating of narcissism with the primary objective of increasing their status or position. The experiences they create for their people are not consistent with the words they speak, shifting as a chameleon would their colors.
As a classic example, a leader states, "Our people are our most important resource." Yet, when the numbers become soft, the training and development budget is the first to be cut--seems pretty two-sided.
Principle 1: You are ALWAYS in the people business
To ensure you don't slip into the "me first" leadership trap, put these simple guardrails in place.
1. Identify your personal purpose.
Understanding our purpose first requires us to ask the question, "Why am I here?" A purpose is more a direction than a destination. An "others first" leader will always see their purpose in the context of serving others.
When you identify your purpose, you have the ability to create accountability around your purpose. Staying centered on your purpose prevents sliding into the "me first" leadership trap.
2. Create consistent daily "others first" experiences.
When what we do matches what we say, we create valuable experiences for those around us. Creating "others first" experiences should be consistent part of each leader's daily activity. These experiences should require little to no interpretation for others to realize you appreciate them.
Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying, "Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care." The reality is each and every organization is in the people business and leaders need to come to grips with this or fail.
It's About Learning
Mistake 2: Believing you know everything you need to know
There is a common belief secretly held by many leaders: "People can't know I don't know."
This interesting phenomenon occurs as you climb the ladder of leadership. These leaders spend the early part of their career developing the skills needed to be effective in their career, yet, when they reach the top, they make the big mistake of believing they no longer need development.
Stopping development due to stubbornness or trepidation of showing that "you don't know" can lead to a number of issues, the greatest being blind spots.
Blind spots are potentially destructive areas that you cannot see due to a lack of transparent mentoring or feedback.
Principle 2: You NEVER know everything you need to know.
Open and candid communication is paramount to development and protects against blind spots. To help with this, install a personal board of advisors of at least three people with these traits:
1. Someone ahead of you in their career.
This person is someone with an abundance of wisdom from both success AND failure in life. I frequently recommend senior leaders have at least one outside professional counselor/coach in the mix.
2. Someone in the same season as you.
This person is on par with you personally and professionally. The ability to share common daily struggles becomes important as you continue to develop.
3. Someone behind you in his or her career.
Having this person in your life allows you to not only provide wisdom but you can receive insight from a fresh set of eyes.
Always and Never
To continue growing in your career and in life you will do well to remember these two simple principles. You are ALWAYS in the people business, and you NEVER know all you need to know.