5 leadership mistakes to avoid in 2019

5 leadership mistakes to avoid in 2019

Want to start the year off on the right foot? Consider this advice from your peers

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January 03, 2019

Ah, January – there's no better time for a fresh start. Perhaps you spent your holiday vacation with an inspiring leadership book. Or you made a resolution to kick a few bad habits to the curb. Either way, you're heading into the office with a renewed focus and aim to be the best leader you can be in 2019. We'd like to help. 

We asked IT and business leaders to share their thoughts on the biggest missteps that can hold leaders back. Let's examine their advice for rising above common leadership pitfalls - like knowing when to push for change, when you should do less instead of more, and why you shouldn't write off change resistors in your organization. 

[ Want to make better decisions? Read 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide, by CTO Sanjay Malhotra. ]

Consider this your checklist for starting the new year off on the right foot. Your team will thank you. 

Don’t try to change what you cannot change

Curt Carver, VP and CIO, The University of Alabama at Birmingham: “It’s critical to have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change and work with all your strength on the things you can. There will always be things you want to change, but you cannot. You may know with certainty that the world is going in a specific direction, but if the institution is not ready for that change, you can’t get upset and emotional about it. Instead, focus your work on the areas where the organization is ready for a change. Do that change well, and do it quickly, and you’ll set yourself up for bigger, more aspirational changes in the future. I’ve always believed that the most important characteristic of leadership is tenacity. But you also need serenity in understanding what you cannot change so that your persistence and determination are not wasted.” 

Don’t have all the answers

Christian Lanng, CEO, Tradeshift: “The biggest mistake that someone in senior leadership can make is to have a large, overarching presence. Instead, it’s important to be patient and let your team take control. In the early stages as a CEO, you need to do everything – you’re the head of product, sales, and recruiting. But as you grow and fill those roles with experienced professionals, a CEO shouldn’t stick their head into everything. You can create chaos and disempower people when you go outside your lane. Doing less is how you make an impact, but it’s also one of the biggest challenges for a CEO.”

Don’t get trapped in small thinking

Derek Hutson, CEO, Datical: “Any important change – DevOps, for example – comes with initial disruption, which can seem too costly. Many projects get abandoned (or worse, die of benign neglect) at this point. Stay committed, keep your team focused on the outcome, and implement the changes required to move your team forward. Make measured, but bold changes. Those two concepts seem paradoxical, but leaders need to do both. Be bold – sometimes small, incremental changes don’t move far enough or fast enough. At the same time, set measured milestones with quick wins and value. Delivering quick value helps accelerate momentum and funding toward a bigger outcome. Measure and publicize value.

Find a way to challenge your thinking. Invest in your network.

Finally, expand your perspective. All of us have experience, education, and backgrounds that impact our thinking, decisions, and priorities. Find a way to challenge your thinking. Invest in your network. Connect with peers of larger organizations who think at a different scale. Read more. Force yourself to think differently to help make better decisions.”

Don’t write off change resistors 

Sanjay Malhotra, CTO, Clearbridge Mobile: "One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is viewing employees who are hesitant to change as obstacles. The truth is, over time, the language of resistance has become a way for leadership to blame less influential players for unsatisfactory change results and employees are likely to do the same if this mindset is prevalent in the company culture.

Your employees are naturally inclined to resist change. As a leader, you have a direct influence on the type of work environment that enables change, and I believe the best approach to guiding transformation is to challenge the dialogue about change resistance. The epithet of resistance can disguise perfectly logical employee concerns, and you can’t assume employee resistance means they will always oppose change. Encouraging communication and making the desired outcomes of change purposeful on an individual level will help you guide a change initiative to success rather than making the mistakes that drive it into the ground."

Don’t get too comfortable

Craig Hinkley, CEO, WhiteHat Security: “If anyone ever said to me that they were a perfect leader and didn’t need to change their leadership style, then I would be hesitant to hire them because no one is perfect. One hard lesson that IT leaders are learning is – what was good in terms of management in the previous year, isn’t necessarily going to bring effective results in another time and place. Evolution is key.

The most important thing is to be self-aware and self-critical. Not in a negative way, but in a way that’s constructive and helps you and the people around you grow and evolve. In 2019, it’s important for IT leaders to focus on building a strong team and nurturing culture. Insist on the highest standards and enforce expected behaviors and cultural norms. Create success models that expose and celebrate examples of how success is achieved. Then continue to model your company that way, so that it always gets done that way.”

[ Broaden your mind with the best new books: Read 10 books to make you a stronger leader. ]

Carla Rudder is a writer and content manager on The Enterprisers Project.

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