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Henley Leadership Group Blog

Three Common Leadership Errors You May Not Realize You Are Making


Previously published on Forbes.com

As an executive, you’re always striving to avoid mistakes. But to do that, you have to know what you’re looking for. There are three common errors we’ve seen executives make time and again — and they may not even be on your radar.

How many of these might you be making?

Mistake No. 1: Assuming you know more than others.

This may have worked in the past, back in the good old days when markets were relatively stable, before we operated in global and highly diverse markets, back when the “way we’ve always done it” still worked. The leaders who helped to create the organization’s strategy or its core ways of working may view themselves as being the “wise elders.” The longer a person has been in the seat, the more this seems true. But this is one of the central errors for a leader. You need to be asking better questions. You need to stop thinking you already know the answer. You need to set aside what you understand for what you can learn from your customers, key stakeholders and employees. You need to see through the eyes of the beginner. Cultivate curiosity and wonder at the newness of it all.

Mistake No. 2: Playing it safe.

Sure, it’s scary taking risks. That’s why you don't do it. One of our clients, a financial services company, has a long history of playing it safe. And that’s kind of what you want from a bank. Their customers historically have benefited from conservatism. But, the environment in this sector is changing dramatically, as more innovative companies scramble to grab market share and innovate around banking technology and customer interface. Our client needs to be taking action faster. They need to identify smaller institutions they can acquire in the face of competition coming into long-held markets. So, yes, it seems like a culture of conservatism will mitigate risk, but it doesn’t keep the big, bad wolf from knocking at the door.

Mistake No. 3: Believing that you have to sacrifice your personal life for the company’s good.

This error has been passed down through the generations who valued sacrifice on behalf of the organization as a way of demonstrating loyalty. And its impact is surely still imprinted on some of our brains. Sometimes, it makes perfect sense to give yourself over to your work. It matters and makes a difference. But, doing this for weeks and months and years, may be fueling a work addiction, and not serving you at all. You probably know firsthand that a person who has worked a 70-hour workweek and neglected their family, their exercise and sleep is not that productive. Consider how might you do both - take good care of yourself and your organization.

Here’s your challenge: Consider which of these three leadership errors you will you stop making today.