No leader goes into a situation aiming to mess up or fail.
But even with the best of intentions, things can – and do – go awry. Making it worse, mistakes by senior-level executives by dint of their positions can sometimes unravel to wider implications.
With greater influence comes closer scrutiny.
The good news is that you don’t have to let the pressure get to you. Here are some tips to help you navigate some of the thornier issues — even if you’ve made mistakes.
Mistake #1: You take on too much at once
Fix: DO sweat the small stuff – by delegating
In their book, “Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand: The Five Practices That Create Great Workplaces,” authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner argue that great leaders make change “one step at a time” and must demonstrate momentum around small wins.
In studying successful leadership in depth, they came away with clear best-in-class approaches around how executives can manage transformation initiatives – or anything that requires a change in how we work.
Effective delegation will be the key to moving forward whenever you find yourself over-promising and under-delivering. Find ways to create leverage and bring your team into the decision-making fold. They are crucial to your success.
Mistake #2: Your team is too risk-averse
Fix: Create a culture around testing and iteration
Focus on validating your assumptions with data at every turn possible. “[L]earn from experimentation,” Kouzes and Posner write. “As paradoxical as it may sound, leaders make risk safe.”
This is especially important when seeking to incorporate Agile principles into non-Agile environments. The “fail fast” ethos of Agile can be applied in a number of contexts outside constraints of software development.
Tyler Greer, an advertising and digital media director at Exponential, a global provider of advertising intelligence and digital media solutions for brands, told CMO Australia that he believes risk should empower companies and brands.
The reason, he said: “[I]t builds a culture that is dynamic and nimble and intelligent and allows everyone to think about things and examine things.”
Mistake #3: You’ve drifted away from your customer base
Fix: Get plugged back in – and quickly
Here the takeaway is to start listening to your customers. Your customers provide valuable insights, find out what your customers want before launching new services and tools you think they want.
Customer exposure can benefit everyone in your organisation, not just you or other senior leadership.
Scotts Australia, the lawn and garden products company, told CEO Magazine it insists that everyone in the company talk to customers. For example, staff are asked to represent the business at consumer shows and events, not just salespeople.
By making a customer-first approach a hallmark of your leadership, you’ll be setting a great tone for everyone.
Mistake #4: Making decisions in an echo-chamber
Fix: Place someone above you – even if you are at the top
No matter how senior you get, having a fresh pair of eyes (and ears) to run decisions by is critical.
This stellar advice was shared in a double interview with millennial leaders in a featured post in the Australian Financial Review Weekend.
The publication sat down with Nicole Gibson, at 22 the CEO of The Rogue and Rouge Foundation and Australia’s National Mental Health Commissioner, and Holly Ransom, 25, a leadership consultant.
Gibson, as the most senior leader in her organisation, said she relies on her board of directors for those all-important “gut checks.”
“It’s important to make preliminary decisions before opening up for team discussions,” she told AFR. “[O]therwise it gets too messy. At the end of the day, people do need leadership.”
Take a deep breath. Great leaders have an opportunity to make a difference every day. While that does involve recovering from mistakes, your grit and resilience will make a difference in those around you.
By focusing on self-awareness and cultivating a willingness to admit when you are wrong, perhaps career-killing mistakes can be a thing of the past.
What have you learned from leadership mistakes? What tools or insights have helped you grow as a manager and a leader? We’d love to hear from you.