7 Mistakes Good Bosses Don’t Make
I pictured myself in military prison, my future ruined. Thoughts like this were racing through my head as I sprinted back to the barracks from the rifle range.
“Oh crap, Oh crap, Oh crap….where is it?” I thought as a cold sweat trickled down my brow.
There was an M16 rifle missing. Gone. We couldn’t find it. We were on the rifle range in Marine Boot Camp on Parris Island, South Carolina.
Somehow I’d finagled my way into being the ‘Platoon Guide’, which is basically the leader of the other 75 recruits in the platoon. One of the recruits went to sick call and left his rifle on his bunk unlocked…and we had forgotten to take it with us to the range.
Losing a weapon on a military base is the equivalent of closing a country’s borders…or worse. EVERYTHING stops. No one, not spouses, not kids, not school busses, no one is allowed on or off the entire base until the weapon is found.
I arrived at the empty barracks. There it was! Phew! I grabbed it and ran back to the range.
I could tell through his rage that the Drill Instructor was relieved but I also knew punishment had to be handed out. But to who? Was it the recruit’s fault who left his rifle there?
No! It was my fault because I was the leader. Period. And I paid the price.
This taught me three valuable lessons. First, anything that happens under a leader’s watch is their complete responsibility. Second, a leader never blames other people for failure. Third, don’t lose guns.
As a military, business, and volunteer leader over the years since this day, I’ve seen the following avoidable mistakes made while I’ve seen the opposite techniques lead to success.
#1. They Expect Respect
You should expect respect to the level that you don’t allow blatant disrespect.
But some leaders think their new position automatically earns them respect. In a way it does — people do need to respect roles for organizations to work. But respect for a position is not nearly as powerful as respect for a person.
So how do you earn respect as a person? Start by giving it. Be morally and mentally strong, respectful, professional and competent. Work hard to show your people that you take the position seriously, that you trust them, and that you’ll use your role to take care of them.
You can also earn respect by asking for help. Genuinely seeking help from people who work for you can win over even the loudest naysayers of your new role.
Everyone knows more than you about something. Remember this to keep the humble heart and open mind a leader needs.
#2. They Don’t Prioritize
Many managers get caught up in the weeds — prioritizing penny-sized problems while quarter-sized ones fester.
Micromanaging comes into play here. Besides being completely destructive to initiative and morale, this takes a leader’s head out of where it needs to be. A leader keeps their head above the weeds to see threats and opportunities on the horizon.
This leads to trust from your people. To prioritize your actions properly, you need to extend trust to your people.
Prioritizing wisely is what separates efficient producers from scattered micromanagers.
#3. They Are Only “Yes People”
Being “can-do” and willing to step up to challenges is how someone should address orders from “higher-up”, but the good leaders know when they need to stand up and say something.
Wise leaders at every level value truth-tellers over yes-men.
Good leaders are what I like to call a “crap umbrella.” They shield their people from doing unnecessary things just because someone wants them to for appearances.
Stand up for you people, even if it means stepping on bigger toes than yours.
Your people will respond to your courage with loyalty and respect.
#4. They Blame Losses and Steal Wins
Leadership and blame are each too heavy to occupy the same boat. If a leader tries to keep both on the leadership boat, everything sinks.
When things go wrong, when that rifle goes missing, that’s on you. You can counsel the guy who left it on his bunk or the person who didn’t deliver the PowerPoint on time — but they’re private words — publicly you admit fault.
On the other hand, when credit is due, you always give it to your team. Always deflect any credit given to you directly others. “Congrats, nice work!” they say to you? — “I could do nothing without my team,” you say back.
If you need to pat yourself on the back, celebrate with a beer and a sly smile that you’re kicking butt then shut up about it.
Another bad habit of blamers is they always remember their employee’s mistakes. Just as in any healthy relationship, a “short memory” is needed.
A leader forgives honest mistakes and even dishonest ones if the heart of the offender is willingly improving.
Reward excellence publicly and counsel sub-par performance privately. Always have genuine care and concern for that person as a person, not just an employee. They are people first, employees second.
You may not associate the following quote with the legendary Marine General James Mattis but he said:
“If a Marine or a unit is screwing up, hug them more.”
#5. They Open Their Mouth More Than Their Ears
Listening is one of the most important aspects of leadership.
How can you make any wise decision if you’re too arrogant or unwilling to open your ears to challenging truths?
Know-it-all arrogant leaders are like blind pilots. They may fly for a while, and maybe even look like they know what they’re doing, but they all eventually crash.
Emotional intelligence comes into play here. Knowing what your people are feeling is a highly critical skill for a leader. If you don’t know where they are, how can you lead them to where you need to go?
You can’t lead a horse to water or make him drink if you can’t find him.
#6. They Lie, Cheat, or Gossip
Setting the example is leadership 101.
If you lie, cheat, or gossip, it’s like handing out driver’s licenses and vodka to your people — then wondering why they wrecked things.
Setting the example doesn’t mean being perfect.
Quite the opposite. Authenticity, that acknowledgment of your human erring side, is much more attractive than perfection. How you handle your shortcomings as a leader is what makes the difference. Acknowledging them and working diligently to correct them sets the example for everyone else to do the same.
Be who you want your people to be. And when you come up short, and you will, work earnestly to improve.
#7. They Are Negative, Not Interested, and Nasty
Misery loves company, but company doesn’t love misery.
Positivity and enthusiasm are attractive traits. Even if your mission isn’t sexy and interesting, you can be enthusiastic about the doing a good job part. If you have to do something anyway, why not do it well?
As I was growing up, my dad taught me this with a simple lesson in sweeping the floor. I was pushing the broom around like a 13-year-old teenager might…no purpose, half-ass. He got a little irritated and very serious. “I don’t care what you are doing,” he said, “but whatever it is, do it like you mean it.”
And that is the essence of work ethic. Positive purpose.
A study by The Alternative Board which surveyed hundreds of founders of companies, concluded that positivity was the most important leadership trait to them.
It beat out the next closest three traits of passion, personality, and decisiveness.
So whatever your mission is, be a positive, be interested, be a happy warrior with a sense of purpose if want to bring out the best in those you lead.
If you can adopt the opposite traits of the ones I listed above, you’ll have a good chance of being a great leader. To recap:
- Don’t expect or demand respect. Instead give it and earn it.
- Prioritize. Keep your head above the weeds and stay out of your people’s way.
- Say yes when you should but be willing to say no when you should. Know the difference.
- Accept all blame. Deflect all credit.
- Listen . Or eventually crash.
- Be what you want your people to be — and when you mess up, fix it.
- Be positive, passionate, and enthusiastic. Have a sense of purpose in all you do…even if it’s just sweeping the floor.
Oh, and try not to lose a rifle and almost shut down an entire military base like I, that’s right I, did.