Some people are born with natural leadership abilities. They believe that they can make a difference, and they are willing to own a difficult outcome. They don’t wait for someone to give them permission or authority to lead. They just lead.
Even so, learning to lead is a process. Mistakes are made. Lessons are learned.
I have made countless mistakes as a leader, and I am certain there are more to come. Two of them stick out as being major mistakes in leadership that taught me important lessons about my role as a leader.
My First Mistake
The first make I made early in my life as a leader was to believe that I would not have to lead and manage the people that I placed in leadership roles—if they had the experience and the skills to do their job. It was a costly mistake, and one I repeated a number of times before learning a lesson.
I believed that if I hired people that knew and understood their role as a leader that I wouldn’t have to spend time with them. I thought if I paid them enough money, then I could leave them alone and they would succeed without me. This turned out to be wrong. This mistake cost me dearly in time, money, and emotional energy.
I have since learned that a leader invests his time in his people. There isn’t any greater investment to be made, and nothing else creates as big of return on time invested. This is true regardless of their experience, their skills, or their compensation.
My Second Mistake
There are some people that have the ability to produce tremendous results. This is never truer than in sales. Because they produce such outsized results, they are given a lot of leeway when it comes to their behavior.
Some are mavericks; they are a little non-compliant and they color outside the lines. That’s okay.
Others are something much worse; they are negative people that destroy all of the people around them—all the while producing great results themselves.
It’s difficult to remove someone from your organization when they are producing outstanding results. It’s tough enough to identify and hire producers, and once you have found someone that puts up big numbers, you can’t help but fear the loss of their production—even when you can’t stop imagining how to get rid of them.
I have led a number of people that have disrupted and destroyed everyone around them. I held on to them far too long, only because they were putting up huge numbers. I made excuses for their behavior, and I gave them far too much air cover. I was attached to their production. It was wrong to do so every single time.
Eventually, I learned that it is a leader’s primary duty and responsibility to protect a healthy and productive culture. Protecting the culture means eliminating anything that destroys morale, that destroys the esprit de corps.
I am sure that there are many leaders that would not have had to learn these lessons the same way that I learned them (the hard way!). Some would have instinctively known what I did not, or would have learned it by watching other leaders. Even still, I don’t know a single leader that can’t recount the lessons they learned by making mistakes.
A leader doesn’t have to be perfect. Leaders are human; they aren’t infallible. Good leaders take the time to reflect on their decisions and to learn from their mistakes. They learn to be better leaders by living through the pain of their mistakes and by feeling it a visceral level.
How do you learn to lead?
Should a leader be expected to learn without making mistakes? Should anyone be expected to learn to do anything well without making mistakes?
What are the major mistakes you have made as a leader?
What did you learn from those mistakes?
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