As I’ve worked my way from answering phones at the local news desk to attempting to run a company that leaves a lasting impression on clients and employees, I have made a lot of mistakes. A LOT of mistakes. And what’s interesting about mistakes is that they seem to repeat themselves. Sure, smart people tell themselves they aren’t making the same gaffes over and over, but in reality, we usually have to get hit on the forehead by a 2×4 to realize that we’ve screwed up, in the same way, yet again. These are the ways that I inhibited my leadership potential then, and now.
1) To get frustrated by the lack of credit I feel I deserve.
Back when I was a freshly minted marketing coordinator, this manifested itself through missing out on plum assignments and wondering why or becoming irritated that my byline didn’t appear on a story I’d helped with. Today, it shows up when I rush to assist a friend and never hear back or receive public credit or when the latest social media list comes out and I’m not on it.
Why it’s harmful: One should never work for credit (unless one is an actor or writer). It makes it very difficult to be part of a team and in this day of social media recognition, is a cheap and easy form of compensation. Appreciation is always nice, and I use it with my own employees as often as possible, but it doesn’t make me any better (or worse) at my job to receive credit.
2) Pro- FOMO.
Professional fear of missing out is something that many founder/entrepreneur types suffer from. The latest conference, the newest advisory board, the next speaking slot, a new RFP. These are all ways in which you can feel inferior or superior to your colleague or friend. Early on, I would go darn near broke showing up at every conference I could and rushing to make the evening twitter chats. It seems exquisitely foolish now and I cringe even writing it, but it’s true. I did those things (and wasted valuable money and time) because I didn’t want everyone to be having fun without me.
Why it’s harmful: It wastes time and money and negatively affects both focus and your relationships with others with whom you may be in competition. Today, I still struggle with it and it manifests itself through the client I didn’t get or the RFP I wasn’t invited to; but if I trust that the market will sort itself out (it will) and that I can’t do everything that exists in my space (I can’t), pro-FOMO magically disappears.
3) Authority without accountability (or vice versa).
Once I worked for an investment company and did a lot of digital work. Digital work is easy to mess up and fix without anyone knowing. However, when I needed to do a (very) expensive print run, I let a typo slip through. I blamed everyone but myself, the person who should have proofed it, the admin who placed the order, the printer who did frequent work for our firm. I was never given a project of that magnitude again and it was YEARS before I understood why. Conversely, when I am given accountability for a project today, I demand full authority as well, since it’s difficult to do a pristine job otherwise.
Why it’s harmful: Being able to stand behind your work and take whatever comes your way on behalf of the team is one of the most valuable skills a leader can have. You must take responsibility when things go wrong and be able to fight for authority when you need it to get the job done. But one is not possible without the other.
4) Gossip. There, I said it.
There is a big problem with gossip in almost every place I’ve ever worked. And I know this because in many of those work places, I’ve been part of the problem. Gossip helps no one and does nothing. When I was younger, it was basically whether the copy guy was messing around with the service rep but today it’s far more insidious. Today, the jabs are far silkier and well-hidden. We’ve all grown up and with us, the sly and professional ways we manage to tear each other down.
Why it’s harmful: If people hear you tearing others down in front of them, they will assume you tear them down behind their backs. It’s human nature and usually true. No matter how discrete you think you’re being, chances are the leaders who came before and after you can see right through your “bless her heart” veneer. Also it’s mean. Cut it out.
5) Been there, done that.
There wasn’t a single skill I could be taught in my first few jobs. I already knew everything. My colleagues had nothing on me and no one was better at _________. Today, I still insist on doing this but it’s when an employee learns a new skill or a colleague asks if I have ever done____________. It’s like I’m trying to be a professional one-upper. And I’m not the only one.
Why it’s harmful: People want to be good at their jobs (nothing wrong with that) but there is also a human need to teach and learn new things. When you squelch that (from any source) there is a need to resort to #4. Instead of talking about new processes or ideas, they must resort to talking about personal anecdotes or never straying from surface issues. Bad news for the workforce. Today, I try really hard to ask to learn about something new instead of uttering my go-to “I KNOW…”
Of course, anyone’s list is longer than 5. In fact, this was originally ten! What things have you done to limit your lifetime leadership potential? How are you trying to become more humble? More honest? Hit me in the comments!