Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO-International, a California and Beijing based intellectual property management company that focuses on the exploitation and management of the intangible assets regarding in situ regeneration in applied medical and health promotion systems (human body regenerative restoration science). They operate in over 73 countries and hospital networks worldwide, and are opening a whole new era of bio-economy.

Like many leaders, I prefer to think most mistakes can be prevented. Unfortunately, when you're managing people mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes it's difficult to judge who you should put your faith in, but these are some of the most important decisions that leaders face.

The biggest mistake I ever made was yielding to popular opinion and making a decision based on people's personalities rather than their capabilities. This choice jeopardized the project my company was working on, caused me to almost lose one of my best managers and shook my team's confidence in my decision-making skills.

How I Almost Sank a $10 Million Project

A while back, I had two managers working together on a $10 million drug development project. I needed to choose one to take the lead, and the other would be reassigned to a project in China. In drug development, choosing the wrong executive to lead a project is suicide. You need the right commander overseeing your army, or the whole thing can fall apart.

Manager A was confident, outspoken and very well-liked among my employees. Manager B was quiet and reserved. He was a good decision maker, but he did not display any outward signs of strong leadership. The whole staff was smitten with Manager A--myself included--so the choice seemed obvious. I chose the charismatic individual who I thought could lead.

The project was delayed in due diligence, and I began transferring the two managers into their new positions. Before long, however, I unearthed a memo pertaining to the initial project discussion. I discovered that, despite his confidence, Manager A lacked the experience necessary to manage the project.

I was floored. I'd already issued my decision and Manager B had nearly been transferred to another part of the company. I removed Manager A from the project, but some of the damage had already been done. My hasty decision had put an incredibly important project on the line, which eroded my team's trust. It was a mistake that took a lot of time to repair, but I backtracked and was able to readjust the project.

4 Lessons I Learned in the Process

Looking back, my mistake was the result of focusing too much on Manager A's popularity and charisma and not enough on his abilities. This was an unfortunate situation, but I learned some valuable lessons in the process:

  1. People are your most important decisions. One of the biggest tests entrepreneurs will encounter is choosing the best employees for the right positions. In reality, not everyone around you is a good card to hold. Being a good leader means knowing when a person is right for advancement and when he needs to be placed on a new track.
  2. Loyalty is priceless. Loyalty and faith in the company are two of the most important traits employees can have under my leadership. The ideal employee is someone who works with the goals of the company in mind instead of using the company to achieve his personal goals.
  3. You have no business listening to the crowd. Choosing an employee based on popularity is a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day, you are the commander, and you are responsible for finding solutions and owning the company's failures.
  4. You always need a backup plan. Employees need to be challenged, but sometimes things won't pan out. You must understand the working parts of a project so you can evaluate all of your employees' skills and develop a contingency plan.

Mistakes are unavoidable. However, you can minimize the damage by making management decisions based on your own criteria rather than the changing whims of the crowd. As a leader, you can't afford to hire someone because they seem confident or likable. You need to consider what's best for the company and make decisions from a more informed vantage point.