7 Common Mistakes New Leaders Make (and How to Avoid Them)

Before you were promoted, you looked into the manager’s office and wondered, “What does she do all day?”

But then you moved into the corner office. The enormity of the job hit you between the eyes. Your knees buckled. Self-doubt set in.

And that’s when the mistakes began.

Mind the gap

When I was just 28 years old, I became the general manager of a St. Louis radio station. When I informed a client of mine — a local dentist — of my new position, he startled me by saying:

“I feel sorry for you, Greg.”

“Sorry? Why?”

“The manager before you made her mistakes years ago and they’ve long since been forgotten. But you’re just about to begin making yours. Like it or not, the two of you will be compared…and you will be found lacking.”

I walked out of his office thinking he’d inhaled a bit too much nitrous oxide.

His words, however, turned out to be quite prophetic.

Seven Common Mistakes Newly-Promoted Leaders Make

These lessons I learned the hard way. In my early years as a manager, I tripped and skidded into success but not before making some thickheaded mistakes. In subsequent years, I’ve watched new leaders struggle with some of these same issues.

I share these with the hope that you will avoid them. And in doing so, set your leadership on the right track from day one.

Mistake #1: Continually comparing yourself to the previous manager.

You’ll have a tendency to ask yourself, “Is this how the previous manager would’ve done things?” It’s a dangerous question. It keeps you from using your God-given intellect to lead your team well. You were promoted for a reason. Your employer saw something in you that inspired confidence. Step up to the plate and swing.

Mistake #2: Agonizing over your weaknesses.

Leading people reveals your weaknesses very quickly. Every leader experiences self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. It comes with the job. You mustn’t fall into the trap of second-guessing yourself.

Take an inventory of your strengths. If you need to, ask your spouse or close friend to help with the list. Leverage those strengths to lead well. Then find someone on your team who can help take up the slack in areas where you’re not as gifted.

Mistake #3: Not dealing with conflict head-on and early.

You’ll quickly learn that an important part of leadership is dealing with conflict among employees. As the new leader, you may be tempted to avoid confrontation in a vain hope that problems will simply go away on their own. They never do.

Don’t run from conflict. Address it head-on. It’s better to deal with a problem early rather than wait until it becomes a full-blown headache.

Mistake #4: Dwelling on past mistakes.

You’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes, big ones. The most difficult ones are those that adversely affect an employee. When this occurs — and it will — sincerely ask forgiveness and then move on. Put it behind you.

If you dwell on your foibles then you’ll start walking on eggshells around your employees. That is the surest way to lose credibility and authority with your team.

Mistake #5: Thinking you need to know all the answers.

Don’t assume that everyone expects you to know exactly what to do in every situation. The truth is, no one does. When a situation has you stumped, gather the team and let them help you find a good solution. A team that has offered input into solving a problem will feel a personal stake in seeing the solution carried out.

Mistake #6: Trying to be a buddy instead of a boss.

When you have been promoted over your peers, it can be awkward for you and them. You used to joke around and gripe and gossip with them. But now you’re responsible for leading them and setting direction.

It’s an awkward transition, but one that must be made if you’re going to be an effective leader. I suggest talking through the change with each person. You might say something like:

“Jim…as difficult as this may be for both of us, our relationship needs to change going forward. I hope that we can continue to have lunch and play golf like we’ve done in the past. But at the same time, my new role requires me to make decisions that you may not agree with. I’ll also need to give you direction and feedback. The degree to which you can accept this new working relationship will determine how close we can remain. Can you accept that?”

At this point, the decision is up to Jim.

Incidentally, it is not uncommon for some of your former peers to leave the company, especially if they wanted the promotion that you received. If someone leaves, don’t take it personally. It likely has nothing to do with their view of you as a leader. Rather, they probably just don’t respond well to change. The good news is that the new people you hire come into the organization with no prior experience with you. So, they’ll see you as their leader from day one.

Mistake #7: Refusing to take charge.

Rarely is it necessary to make wholesale changes immediately. It’s better to take some time to ease into your new role. But there will come a time when you must take charge.

General Norman Schwarzkopf — the commander of the U.S. and coalition military forces during the first Gulf War — once said:

“When placed in command, take charge. Even if the decision is bad, you have set change in motion. It is better than being stagnant. When placed in command, take charge.”

You’re the leader. For the sake of your company, step out and lead.

A Final Thought

Leading a team can be the most rewarding job you’ll ever have. But it’ll take time to settle into your new role.

You’ll make mistakes just like every leader before you. But as George Bernard Shaw once said:

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”

God speed in your new role. Lead well.

We typically learn more from our mistakes than our successes. So, what are some of the mistakes you’ve made as you’ve developed as a leader?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find this one helpful: The Secret to Managing Employees When They Blow It.

Author: Greg Lhamon

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