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BW Businessworld

Mistakes Leaders Make

Organisations that are pursuing an aggressive growth path often require leaders to drive the teams with a mindset of positivity

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One often comes across leaders or leadership behaviors that could cause one to cringe. Cringe, not because of the impact it has on the people in question, but more so because of the extent to which such errors go a long way in impacting the fabric of an organization. This especially when one is building one up or at least making the right noises in attempting to drive strength in that fabric of trust and of high performance among other buzz words that enable organizations to drive inflexion points in their long terms aspirations.

Often leaders question teams regarding mistakes or errors of judgement that may have been made by the latter. Planning for projects, forecasting for numbers, and a ton of other areas require employees to on an on-going basis take decisions, several of which require facts to determine; but along with the facts, they also require a subjective element as well as an evaluation of possible risks that may arise, among other criteria. One is quite often accused of sand-bagging if one does build in too much risk (so as not to be caught off guard and having to go back on one’s word). On the other hand, one may be accused of aggressiveness if one has not planned for enough risk in the commitments being made. In either of the cases, it is possible that errors are made- and here is where the issue comes.

Several times leaders in their reviews of such areas would accuse employees of misjudgment, questioning them (may not be directly) of their lack of abilities in identifying the possibilities ahead of time and ensuring actions were aligned accordingly. What this does to an individual may be a combination of shattering his or her confidence, ensuring an over-cautious approach for the future. But more than that, it ensures that the impact is a lesson for all those witness to this experience of the said employee.

Now as a leader, in the same instance, if one were to explain to the employee to delve deeper into why a certain plan had been made the way it was so that in future when planning a similar task, one could deal better with it, it becomes a learning experience which adds value to the employee without questioning his or her capabilities to deal with the job at hand. Additionally, an employee, who may already be dreading the consequences of such errors does not lose confidence in dealing with such issues in future. Akin to a toddler learning to walk or exploring the wide world around it, the employee requires this support and encouragement so that the conditioning does not leave him or her marred for the future development that is part of their journey.

Another important area where leaders are prone to err is in driving confusing messages on accountability. In several cases this may be because they themselves are confused on whose problem it is to solve. But in several others, it is also because leaders are not sure where the solution may best lie. And hence, thinking about setting right an issue, they may rest the blame also on wrong quarters rather than acknowledge that the issue may have been cause at one part of the organization and may best be resolved at another. But looking at it in combination with the previous error leaders make in calling our mistakes not with the intent of improvement but with the intent of blaming, one can drive serious consequences in terms of behaviours that teams condition themselves to adopt. At stake here is not just employee morale, but also the lack of ownership that organizations suffer from in their employees.

Organisations that are pursuing an aggressive growth path often require leaders to drive the teams with a mindset of positivity. An optimism about the future or a dream that gets created often goes a long way with individuals aspiring to drive the achievement of company’s goals. This especially in high growth markets which show the promise of the future. The curve is upward sloping, but may definitely have temporary blips which may have temporary impacts but not the long term trajectory of the organization. In such cases, leaders need to instil the confidence in the team that short term setbacks in no way impact the goals that are set out and are still achievable. This is important as the confidence of a team may get fragile under such circumstances and have them question what otherwise would have been a collective vision they have set out for themselves.

The ability to listen (and not just hear) pateintly, the ability to empathize and not question, the ability to be flexible, the ability to roll up their sleeves when situation demands and several others are areas which distinguish leaders

Which mistakes are more adversarial than others are difficult to define. The point being that the higher you are the more prominent they are and the deeper the impact they have. But more than that, the question remains on whether most of the times leaders themselves are able to identify the mistakes and rectify them, or show a willingness to rectify them. Perhaps the ignoramus sometimes does not realize the blunders they may be causing habitually and some mirrors may be required for reflections. Feedbacks to leaders are important ways to make a difference especially when unbeknownst to them such problems arise. But then not everyone has the courage that the “Mirror Mirror on the wall” (from Snow White) had in telling the truth irrespective of the consequences!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Bhavana Bindra

A graduate of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore, Bhavana joined the corporate world starting with Consulting at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), followed by almost 13 years in the Manufacturing & Engineering sector with the US MNC Cummins India Limited. Setting up and running businesses with expertise in the areas of leadership, strategic thinking, sales and marketing, Bhavana believes learning is continuous and experiments worth the time spent. This explains explaining her stint at a start-up in the Data analytics space, as well as her last role in the Chemicals industry as the Managing Director of a Dutch company in India.

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