How to Improve Leadership Skills: Are You Making these Little-Known Mistakes?

How to Improve Leadership Skills: Are You Making these Little-Known Mistakes?

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu was “sort of” right. A leader is best when people end up feeling that they are instrumental in the success of the team.  But I also believe that the best team leaders do stand out.  The people on their team adore them and recognize their talent and skill in managing their team.  They feel lucky to be learning from a master.

However, as many of you will attest, being a leader is not easy and sometimes the road to effective leadership can be tricky.

How to Keep Your Focus on Constantly Improving Your Leadership Skills

The good news is that leadership skills can be improved! The not-so-good news (for the quick-fix lovers among you – you know who you are!) is that it takes time and effort.

So, let’s get started immediately and quickly pinpoint the 5 leadership mistakes that can sink the ship.  Think of this as your one-stop assessment.  When things aren’t going well with your team – which of these 5 non-negotiables could be at the root of your issue?

1. Lack of Clear Goals

Goals are key to keeping the team and your employees directed and focused. Plus, they act as great motivators. Whether it’s a short-term project or the overall progress of the company, goals must be in place with clear action plans, results, and rewards.  I often find that even the most outgoing leaders can just assume that everyone “knows” the desired outcome.  The truth is that frequently restating and recommitting to the team goals, as well as publicly keeping track of the team’s progress along the way is crucial to making sure everyone is on board together and motivated along the way.

I had one client who would sent out to-do lists to her team without any rationale for the requests.  Once she began communicating both the “what” as well as the “why,” it was much easier to galvanize her team into responsive action.

2. Not Providing Concrete Feedback

Too often, as leaders, we get caught up in the busyness of running the show that we forget to give feedback on projects and performance.

Frequent communication with the team is vital and will help them know what’s going well (and give them pats on the back) and what needs improvement. Try to make time for regular group and individual feedback sessions.  First of all, people love to hear praise, and secondly, better to curtail unhelpful behaviors before they become habits.

While giving feedback, make sure you link improvements to measureable behaviors you want to see more (or less) of. Too often performance feedback is vague and nebulous because leaders have trouble being direct.  Do yourself and your team a favor and make sure all the parties involved have agreed what an improvement would really look like.

These sessions are also important because they’ll help you assess where the team needs help from you and what you, as a leader, can still improve on.

3. Being Over Friendly

Many leaders often find themselves wanting to come across as approachable and accessible, however it’s often hard to correctly navigate the line between camaraderie and ineffectiveness.  The lines get blurred quickly when you end up becoming too friendly and then it can become difficult to give corrective feedback (see above) or “call it how you see it.”

While I’m all for being hands-on and working closely with your team, you need to remember that there will be times when you’ll have to make tough, and even unpopular, decisions.  Make sure your work friendships don’t interfere with that or making clear, unbiased decisions will be a difficult task.  (Or at the very least, it might be hard for your team to believe they are clear and unbiased decisions – not personal reprimands or favoritism)

So, be approachable but set boundaries.

4. Doing it All Yourself

It’s tempting. We’ve all felt it. The “it will take less time and be done exactly right if I just do it myself.” This urge to just do it on your own and not delegate can end up being a costly mistake in the long run.

First, it sends out the message that you don’t trust your team. Secondly, it impacts your time and schedule – leaving you busier and without the bandwidth you need to make the decisions that really matter. Third, it leaves you feeling unsupported and your team feeling under-utilized.

Good leaders lead and they delegate. They hand over the responsibility, the authority and the accountability for getting things done – and they make sure to coach their team throughout the process to success. Only then, will you be able to move forward and make progress with the big-picture goals that really do need your vision and strategic guidance.

5. Not Learning or Changing

Finally, if you want to improve your leadership skills, you need to be open to learning opportunities as well as some key performance improvement feedback of your own.

Not only do you want to make sure you include regular learning and up-skilling in your schedule, but make sure you are actively seeking feedback on your own growth areas.

Welcome all feedback, and when you do hear feedback that resonates, create a “next steps” plan with the help of an objective friend or coach.  The key is to keep progressing in these areas without picking goals that are too audacious and leave you feeling overwhelmed.

The last thing any leader wants is a 360 that points to improvement goals they never even knew were issues.  Requesting and staying open to real feedback will not only help you stand-out as a high-performer dedicated to continuous improvement, it will make sure there aren’t any growth areas that aren’t on your radar.

Learning how to continuously assess and you improve leaderships skills is what will help you keep growing in your organization, and confidently influencing your team in productive ways.

So what about you? Which of these five steps do you think you need to tackle next and why?  Comment below and let me know what you’re working on!

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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