Everyone makes mistakes. I don’t think there’s any disagreement about that. But as a leader, the mistakes you make directly impact your credibility. And, if you’re in a senior leadership position, your mistakes are multiplied by the level of your authority, which can do wide organizational harm.
Your fault lines have the potential to fracture your leadership agenda.
So what are the biggest mistakes you can make? I thought that was worth looking into, so over the course of two years, I collected data from 577 leaders, managers, supervisors and employees, representing many different organizations. Now it’s time to release the results.
Introducing the ‘Fault Lines Leadership Study’
I began by asking the question, “What’s the One Biggest Mistake a Leader Can Make?” It’s interesting to note the respondents typically approached this assignment from the point-of-view of mistakes in interpersonal relationships – “what goes wrong between worker and management.” Mistakes are behavioral, as compared to a “wrong call;” issues like a bad strategic decision, a poor operational plan, or marketing missteps, etc. Those things are evidently forgiven. But, mistakes with human capital are the ones that are remembered and have far-reaching implications.
Over the next few months I’ll be writing about the most significant mistakes identified in the survey.
The Biggest Mistake
By far and away, the biggest mistake a leader can make is a failure to LISTEN!
Now don’t stop reading. Not quite yet. Listening issues were the number #1 fault by a landslide – 65% more responses than any other.
But, many people may think this is just too simple an answer; believing they’re better listeners than they actually are. That’s the problem. They’re blissfully unaware of a very glaring fault. So, what can we learn?
These are a few of the fatal listening flaws:
- Thinking your opinion is better, or more informed, than others’
- Not acknowledging what you heard, and the person(s) saying it
- Ignoring what you don’t want to hear, or fails to support your point-of-view
- Dismissive of feedback
- Making decisions without input from others
No, that’s not a complete list. But you get the idea. Each one of those items is reflected in a leader’s behavior and attitude – with some pretty nasty outcomes.
Listening is much more than hearing … it’s the origin of relationships, and has a significant impact on the quality of your thinking. A “Listening Leader” attracts people – getting them “on-board” by tuning into them, and establishing a connection with them. Where loyalty and understanding is built, the small stuff is forgiven.
People need to buy-into the leader, before they buy-into the plan
In the 1980’s, Leo Buscaglia’s lectures became famous as they were broadcast on PBS stations across the country. As a USC faculty member, his highly popular non-credit class ‘Love 1A,’ became the basis for a best-selling series of books and motivational speeches. In his words, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a LISTENING ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
I would argue the same can be said for turning a leader’s agenda around, and heading it in a positive direction.
– Jerry Strom
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This article is based on the *‘Fault Lines Study: The Biggest Mistakes a Leader Can Make,’ copyright 2013, by Jerry Strom & Company, Inc. Download the primary findings paper, ‘The Listening Leader,’ which includes ‘Listening Strategies for the Executive Suite,’ at http://www.jerrystrom.com/research/js_fault-lines.html .