There is no doubt that team leaders have a difficult job.  Not only do they have to manage complex work with many aspects, but they also have to make sure their team is performing to their best.   While some of this is trial and error and experience is key, there are some obvious mistakes team leaders can make, which can be easily avoided.   My short but informative ebook provides a comprehensive breakdown of some of the most prevalent mistakes.   In the meantime here are a taster of 9 of the potential mistakes which can be easily resolved.

The pitfalls of poor team leadership

For years, there has been a significant issue with poor team leadership in various organisations. Despite this, it seems perplexing that these issues persist even though most team leaders report to higher-level executives. One would expect these senior leaders to address and rectify poor team leadership among their subordinates. However, this often doesn’t happen. This raises the question: why aren’t ineffective team leaders being held accountable by their superiors?

Surprisingly, many team leaders who exhibit poor leadership skills are still able to achieve satisfactory work results. This can result in a lack of scrutiny from higher-ups. If a team is meeting its budgetary constraints and hitting targets, there’s often no immediate financial incentive to address underlying team leadership issues. This situation leads to a significant problem: team dissatisfaction and subpar facilitation of outstanding results are overlooked because the basic requirements are being met.

Organisations do not need to tolerate poor team leadership. It is one of the most impactful mistakes team leaders can make. It only requires clear policies and decisive action to eliminate these issues. Allowing poor team leadership practices to continue is inexcusable, especially when the solution is within reach. Organisations must recognise the necessity of addressing these issues promptly and effectively.

Effective Team Leaders Encourage Great Team Leadership

Zero Tolerance for Poor Leadership

Exceptional leaders, especially those who oversee other team leaders, have a zero-tolerance policy for poor leadership t practices. They recognise that their role is not only to lead the work but also to ensure that their team leaders are facilitating positive results through their teams.

Emphasis on Team Achievement and Positive Experiences

Effective team leaders understand the importance of having strong people skills, as well as the necessary knowledge and expertise to achieve excellent outcomes. They ensure that their team members have a positive experience under their leadership. This includes rewarding team leaders based on their team’s achievements, and recognising that the most significant impact comes from effective teamwork.

Accountability for Team Well-being

These competent leaders will hold their team leaders accountable for any signs of team distress, such as excessive absenteeism, negative employee feedback, or a high level of complaints. They recognise that these indicators suggest room for improvement, even if the team is performing adequately. The goal is to ensure not just good enough results, but to foster an environment where teams can excel and feel supported.

Not knowing the names of team members

One of the most thoughtless mistakes a team leader can make is not remembering the names of their team members. If a team leader remotely manages several teams in several countries and has several thousand employees, they will not be expected to know the names of team members. However, there are several situations when having those names on hand is vital.

There will be times when they are paying a flying visit to one of the teams or one of several local teams. It is a big mistake not to take the time to learn the names of their employees in advance.  At least they need to be able to refer to his or her name in a timely way.

Meeting Employees

I remember many years ago, sitting next to one of the most senior people in a particular organisation.  We chatted for most of the night.  I learned a lot about him and his family, and he learned a lot about me.  We discussed work at length.  Because of the depth of the conversation, I was in no doubt he knew what my role was and where I worked. After speaking with him I felt like I belonged and had a renewed feeling of enthusiasm for my work.

About 6 months later he was attending a meeting at my organisation.  I was part of the welcome party.  When he entered the room, he chatted with a few people. When he walked over to be introduced to me, I brightly held out my hand and said a big “hello again”.  He looked at me blankly and said, “And you are?”  I told him my name, and he said, “Very nice to meet you”.  Ok, so I may be simply forgettable, and I do not expect people to remember everything, but he had even asked the names of my kids.  It was then I realised why this leader was universally unpopular with his people.

Effective Team Leaders Know The Names Of Team Members When It’s appropriate

Recognising the Importance of Personal Details

Effective team leaders understand the significance of remembering personal information about those they work with. They don’t necessarily need to have exceptional memories, but they do need to find ways to retain and recall important details about their team members.

Taking Interest Beyond Professional Roles

Such leaders make an effort to know the names of their immediate team and others in their purview. They show genuine interest in their team members as individuals, not just as employees. This approach is not just about motivation; it’s about inspiring and creating a more connected and productive team environment.

Preparing for Visits and Encounters

When visiting new or less frequently visited offices or sites, effective leaders request briefings and employ techniques to help them remember crucial information. They handle unexpected situations in a way that demonstrates their care and concern for their team members, reinforcing the idea that they value each individual. This level of attention and personalisation is a key factor in successful team leadership.

Not listening to good ideas from the team is a big mistake

If you’ve ever carried out the paperclip exercise, you will already know the power of collective ideas.  In this exercise, individuals are asked to write down as many uses for a paperclip as possible. It’s a great example of the benefits of listening to good ideas from the team.

Typically, people can come up with anything between 5 to around 25 answers each in the space of 5 minutes.  Each person is asked then to write up their original ideas on a flipchart.  If the idea is already on the flipchart, it is not added.  The result is several different and original ideas.

The last time I carried this out, the group came up with 84 original ideas.  Now some of the ideas were comical, but that does not particularly matter.  What the exercise demonstrated was the richness and breadth of ideas when many minds come together.

Team leaders who do not understand that everyone will bring something to the table are frankly missing out and blinkered and so it is a major one of the mistakes team leaders can make.

Effective Team Leaders Know The Value of Active Listening

The Power of Listening in Driving Innovation

Effective team leaders recognise the immense benefits that come from genuinely listening to their team members. This approach is crucial in various situations, such as:

Encouraging Creative Thinking

By actively engaging in brainstorming sessions or soliciting thoughts and suggestions, leaders can trigger innovation within their teams. Listening not only helps in generating new ideas but also in making employees feel that their contributions are valued and significant.

Understanding the Frontline Perspective

Listening attentively to team members provides leaders with insights into the day-to-day operations and challenges at the frontline. This understanding is essential for identifying potential issues, inefficiencies, and areas of best practice that might otherwise remain hidden.

Balancing Feedback and Decision-Making

Team leaders understand that not all ideas or suggestions can be adopted. The key to fostering and maintaining a culture of healthy two-way communication lies in maintaining respect for all feedback received. This means being grateful for the ideas they can act on and providing honest explanations for those they cannot.

Ensuring Continuous Engagement and Improvement

By handling feedback in this manner, leaders ensure a continuous flow of great ideas and practical help from their team. This approach not only aids in accomplishing tasks effectively but also reinforces a culture of respect and collaboration within the team. Effective listening thus becomes a cornerstone for continuous improvement and positive team dynamics.

Not keeping promises erodes team leader’s trust

Unless the organisational structure is completely flat, the leader or manager will have authority in some shape or form to secure basic resources to get the job done.  There is a lack of awareness among these leaders and managers about how dependent the team can be on them to create the right environment for them to thrive. Not keeping promises, not only prevents their team from getting on with things, but it also erodes trust.

They are absent when decisions are needed.  For example, when policies need to be varied, resources deployed or time off granted, they aren’t available.

For these leaders and managers, priorities are not about the needs of their team. It’s all about their agenda.

Because issues outside of the team are more important, they are never “present”. Even if they are physically there.  They don’t attend vital meetings because there is a more important event in HQ.  Alternatively, they cancel employee reviews because something more important comes up.

They forget to get back to people when others are relying on them.  When this happens, other deadlines are at risk.  Therefore, people can’t do their work effectively or efficiently. The decisions or the resources they need are simply not available at the right time.  Letting down people who rely on them, breeds a culture of distrust and frustration.

Effective Team Leaders Keep Their Promises And Enable Team Members

Balancing External Agendas with Team Focus

Effective leaders and managers understand the importance of addressing external issues and agendas. However, they recognise that the success and facilitation of their team is paramount. These leaders are acutely aware that the well-being and effectiveness of their team is not just a matter of human interest, but also carries significant financial implications.

Delegating Decision-Making Authority

These leaders empower their teams by delegating appropriate decision-making responsibilities. They step in as decision-makers only when necessary, ensuring that their involvement is timely and informed. This approach fosters a sense of trust and autonomy within the team, leading to enhanced motivation and engagement.

Ensuring Adequate Resources and Support

Effective leaders establish appropriate systems, triggers, and governance to ensure that their teams have the necessary resources at the right time for maximum benefit. They pay close attention to not just the material needs of the team but also ensure their own physical, emotional, and intellectual presence is available as support.

Valuing Respect and Dignity

A key tenet for these leaders is the understanding that letting their team down is, in essence, letting themselves down. They hold a deep respect and dignity for themselves and their team, which drives them to avoid failures and shortcomings in team leadership. This ethos underpins their approach to leadership, fostering a culture of mutual respect and collective success.

Demonstrating a lack of appreciation

Taking even routine and regular tasks and duties for granted can demotivate employees. Ignoring work in progress shows a lack of appreciation for their effort. A team leader who says “thank you” because they have read the latest management bulletin which says “Don’t forget to say thank you to your people.”  Or worse because it is part of the company policy to thank employees will smack of insincerity. Not saying thank you sincerely to the team is a huge mistake.

People don’t take too much notice of the words being said. They listen to the tone, see the light in the manager’s eyes, or hear the emotion behind the words.  It is through all these methods of communication that a team member will know if the “thank you” is sincere or not.

Effective Team Leaders Cultivate Genuine Appreciation

The Natural Expression of Gratitude

Effective team leaders don’t view expressing thanks as an obligation; instead, it’s a natural part of their interaction with their team. They acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of their team members instinctively. This natural tendency to show gratitude stems from a genuine recognition of their team’s hard work and commitment.

Integrating Gratitude into Leadership Character

For these leaders, gratitude is an integral part of their character. This authentic sense of thankfulness arises from not taking anything for granted. They are consciously aware of their team’s efforts and openly express their gratitude, not as a strategy to motivate the team, but as a sincere reflection of their feelings.

Differentiating Between Gratitude and Appreciation

While gratitude and appreciation are closely related, effective team leaders understand the subtle difference between the two. Gratitude is about being thankful for something received, a response to the efforts and contributions of the team. On the other hand, appreciation is about recognising and valuing the qualities and achievements of the team. It stems from a proactive stance of observing and admiring the team’s work and qualities. This ability to appreciate not only the outcomes but also the inherent qualities of the team adds depth to the leader’s connection with their team members.

Ignoring diversity and inclusion

While many team leaders ensure they comply with diversity laws and regulations, there’s a broader aspect of diversity and inclusion that may be overlooked. True diversity awareness is critical to the success of any organisation. A team that does not reflect the diversity of the communities it serves indicates a significant oversight. It is essential for team leaders to not only acknowledge but actively embrace the differences within their teams, ensuring representation from a wide array of cultures and minority groups.

A common mistake made by team leaders is to focus solely on creating a diverse workforce without effectively integrating these diverse elements. Acknowledging the differences within a team is crucial, but it is equally important to ensure that these differences are inclusively woven into the team’s fabric. Failing to do so results in a workforce that is diverse in appearance but not in practice.

In scenarios where cultural differences are pronounced, such as in international teams or teams comprising various groups, there’s a tendency for leaders to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This method, typically characterised by using uniform motivation techniques for everyone, can be counterproductive. Different individuals and cultures may require different motivational approaches. By not adapting to these varied needs, leaders inadvertently neglect the concept of inclusion, overlooking the unique challenges and opportunities that a truly diverse and inclusive environment presents.

Effective Team Leaders Embrace Diversity and Inclusion

The Richness of Diverse Teams

Effective team leaders understand the immense value that diverse groups and cultures bring to a team. They recognise that individuals from varied backgrounds and cultures contribute a unique mix of skills, abilities, and perspectives, enhancing the overall effectiveness and richness of the team’s output.

Understanding and Meeting Diverse Needs

These leaders are attuned to the fact that people have diverse needs and are committed to addressing them. Their leadership style is flexible and responsive, ensuring that all team members’ requirements are met. This approach is not just about acknowledging differences but actively working to accommodate and leverage them for the betterment of the team.

Fostering a Sense of Belonging

While recognising and respecting differences is important, these leaders place a strong emphasis on making every team member feel they belong. They understand that diversity is just the first step towards the ultimate goal of inclusion. This involves creating an environment where all individuals feel valued, heard, and integral to the team, regardless of their background.

Mirroring and Serving the Community

Effective team leaders also realise the importance of having teams that reflect the communities they operate in or serve. This representative approach not only provides insights into the needs of these communities but also helps in building trust. By being inclusive and representative, these leaders ensure that their teams are not only diverse in composition but also in understanding and addressing the needs of the wider community they engage with.

Not being able to say “No”

Team leaders who constantly try to accommodate customers, forget to say one little word.  That word is “No”.  Because saying no is not an option, those team leaders end up overpromising. They set unrealistic standards in terms of the time of delivery, or quantity and/or quality of product/service. Being a people pleaser, they set up their team to fail

Aiming to please above all else, they not only promise something they can’t deliver, but they also set their customers up for unhealthy expectations. They do this in the mistaken belief that with enough effort, commitment and sheer hard work, the team should be able to deliver. By causing impractical expectations they cause unnecessary stress, anxiety and unhappiness for members of their team.

Even worse, they overpromise, squeezing the last bit of energy and effort out of their team, to deliver in unreasonable times.  The customer takes that standard of service as the norm. Then suddenly there is an unrealistic expectation with the customer wherein any renegotiation about the expectation to a more realistic offer will seem like a drop-in service to them.

Effective Team Leaders Go Beyond People-pleasing

Avoiding the Pitfall of Overpromising

Effective team leaders consciously steer clear of the temptation to become people pleasers. Instead, they adopt a strategy of under-promising and over-delivering. This approach is based on simple psychology; for instance, when customers expect a delivery in a fortnight but receive it in a week, their satisfaction significantly increases. This tactic not only manages expectations but also enhances the perceived value of the service or product.

Prioritising Customer Service and Employee Feedback

These leaders maintain a strong focus on customer service, understanding that it’s a crucial aspect of business success. They also recognise the importance of the feedback they receive from their employees regarding goals and targets. By valuing their employees and expecting the best from them, these leaders foster a culture of mutual respect and high performance.

Balancing Expectations and Realities

A key emphasis for these leaders is not to exploit their employees. They believe in the principle of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, ensuring that their team members are adequately rewarded for their efforts. This approach helps in maintaining a motivated and committed workforce.

Understanding the Consequences of Unrealistic Promises

Team leaders who avoid the trap of people-pleasing understand the long-term repercussions of making unrealistic promises. They are aware that not only can this lead to the loss of customers, but it also risks demoralising employees, potentially causing them to look for opportunities elsewhere. By setting realistic expectations and consistently meeting or exceeding them, these leaders build trust and loyalty among both customers and employees.

They have one rule for them

These team leaders have double standards and it is one of the most awful mistakes team leaders can make. They remind me of the classic Orwell novel “Animal Farm”.  Where the maxim “All animals are equal, but some assume different roles, elevated higher than others”, was used. There is always one rule for them and another for the team.

These team leaders will cut the budget and, therefore, ask staff to work with fewer resources. They will then proceed to take a bonus for themselves.  They give themselves flexible ways of working. This could be from home or a pattern of late or early hours. Contrarily they expect their people to work unsociable hours, which cut into their family or social lives.

They will give out elaborate mission statements setting out values of “transparency, openness and honesty”, for example. They then go and appoint consultants or members of the team without advertising, tendering or assessing to make sure they have the right person for the job.  This is usually because they “trust their instincts”. So justify violating those values. Very often they are simply not consciously aware they are embedding the practice of one rule for them, and another for others.  They are just looking after themselves.

Effective Team Leaders Lead By Example And Live Up To Their Values

Demonstrating Organisational Values and Standards

Effective team leaders are acutely aware that their actions are constantly observed by their team members. They understand the importance of being a living example of the values and standards they set for their team. This approach involves more than just verbal communication of expectations; it requires embodying these principles in their daily actions and decisions.

Willingness to Participate and Support

While these leaders do not need to be skilled in every task their employees perform, they demonstrate a willingness to be involved, especially in challenging times. For instance, if the team needs to work late to meet tight deadlines, effective team leaders are right there alongside their team, ready to contribute and support. This hands-on involvement reinforces their commitment to the team’s objectives and builds solidarity.

Sharing in Sacrifices and Adjustments

In situations where cost-cutting measures are necessary, such as reductions in resources, perks, or pay, effective team leaders ensure they share in these sacrifices. They don’t exempt themselves from the impact of these decisions. By experiencing the same challenges as their team, they demonstrate fairness and empathy, strengthening the team’s unity and morale.

Upholding Standards and Values Consistently

These leaders recognise that their position of authority amplifies the importance of aligning their actions with the organisation’s standards and values. They understand that they cannot hold their employees to certain standards while exempting themselves. Being in a leadership role, they recognise the criticality of consistency in what they do, say, and embody, ensuring that their actions are in harmony with the ethos of the organisation. This congruence between words and actions is essential in fostering trust and respect within the team.

So there you have 8 mistakes team leaders can make.  Find out about the other mistakes by soucing my free ebook – 50 Mistakes Good Team Leaders Never Make.

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