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5 Mistakes Leaders Make - and 5 Solutions
By Stephanie Au

At SSCA we believe in “conscious leadership.” It is about being mindful and aware of the impact you want to have and then selecting the behavior that would elicit the results you are looking for. This is in essence the solution to overcome the five common mistakes leaders make that have been introduced by J. Keith Murnighan.

Have you found yourself guilty of one of these five mistakes? Are you possibly a repeat offender? The good news is there are five solutions to these mistakes.

Problem: Egocentric thinking
Leaders often are treated like they are the center of the universe. Their word is The Word, and this makes people less willing to challenge it. As a result, the higher up they are, the less feedback they are likely to receive. Consequently, leaders experience the world in a biased, self-focused, and often out-of-touch way.
Solution: Focus on them
Learn your team’s skills and preferences. Focus on what they want and how you can help them get what they want. People are more motivated and engaged when they have a voice. Too many leaders act as if they do not realize this.

Problem: Lack of empathy
Humans naturally experience an empathy gap where we do not directly relate to the emotions and distress of what the person in front of us is experiencing. Couple this with leaders flying at 50,000 feet when their team and frontline folks could be flying at 10,000 feet and ground zero respectively; it hinders leaders’ ability to relate to and authentically connect with others. Research shows people must have directly related experiences to feel empathy for another person. How often does that occur?
Solution: Shift your perspective
See events through your team members’ perspectives. The question is not, “What would I do if I were in their shoes?” rather it is, “What would they do?” and “What would be their concerns?” Have you heard of the transparency effect? It is when people think that their friends and colleagues completely and clearly understand their ideas; they feel that they are wonderful communicators and that after they deliver a message everybody “gets it”.

Problem: Misdirected attention
Leaders can engage in an action and hope they will have the reactions intended rather than focus on the reactions they want and then consider the actions to take accordingly. In other words, they shoot first and aim second. Prior to a meeting or a business engagement do you “go conscious”? Or are you on autopilot? We naturally think most about our own actions, about what we are going to do rather than what we want our team’s reactions to be for them to accomplish the goal. This means that, far too often, our attention is fundamentally misdirected.
Solution: Start with the end in mind
Think of the reaction that you want first, then determine the actions you can take to maximize the changes that those reactions will actually happen. Are you asking yourself, “What is the goal of this meeting?”, “What is the outcome I am wanting?”, and “What is the leadership behavior I must engage in to invite this outcome?” Ask yourself which is more important: your actions as a leader or your team’s reactions to your actions?

Problem: Projecting values and beliefs
Leaders tend to think that people see events and situations the way they see them. Is your mantra “your point of view is correct as long as it is my point of view”? Do you allow yourself to be open…truly open with others? Is it possible you stay within your paradigm when you engage with your folks? Be careful not to automatically impose your mental framework, values and belief systems onto others. This action invites one frame of reference, one perspective, which may hinder creativity within your people and organizations.
Solution: Practice active listening
Listen with the absence of thought. Listen without a filter. Listen without inserting your own viewpoints, paradigm, personal experiences, or belief systems. Listen without feeling the need to provide an answer.

Problem: Assumed interpretations
Leaders think their team members will interpret their actions as they intend for them to be interpreted. Remember the old model of gift giving, “it is the thought that matters”? By this same token, it is not the leader’s intent that matters; it is the reaction and perception of the receiver that matters. It may be we have good intentions with our staff and teammates; yet have we stopped to confirm that our intentions match their interpretations?
Solution: Get on the Balcony/Walk the Floor
Get on the Balcony: practice the mental state of standing on a balcony above your current situation. Watch how everything unfolds including seeing yourself in action from an objective viewpoint. Walk the Floor: use the good old “Management By Walking Around” concept to avoid keeping a distance that makes it difficult for leaders to get a feel for the everyday events in their organizations. Presence among your frontline staff goes a long way. People appreciate a leader who cares about them personally and expresses genuine interest in the work they are doing.

J. Keith Murnighan may have identified five mistakes, yet there are many more leaders can make. That is part of the joy of leading; having the courage to inspire change, make mistakes and learn from it. Enjoy the journey. Fail forward.