The 10 Common Leadership Mistakes to Avoid in Business

A guest article by Don Zillioux, Ph.D., CEO & Chief Scientist of Strategic Development Worldwide

There are many secrets to being a successful leader, but sometimes it’s easier to learn from the errors of others. Here are 10 common leadership mistakes to avoid in the business world. You’ll be much closer to success if you steer clear of them.

10 Common Leadership Mistakes

1: Not Seeing Beyond the Flattery

The most precious and difficult thing for a CEO or other leader to obtain is a clear view of his world. People may wish to flatter him, spare her unpleasantness, or hide a failure of their own. Their intentions are not always disingenuous. It’s just that the CEO’s power tends to cause people to distort their message by bending their words and actions to earn favors. CEOs who don’t recognize this fact are doomed to failure.

2: Ruling by Fear

Those leaders who rule by fear are usually the most insecure. An interesting discovery was that fear-based leaders actually believe their employees enjoy working for them, when in fact the fear they instill fosters hate and disgust and leads to ineffectiveness.

3: Putting Too Much Pressure on Employees

Excessive pressure on employees, combined with a single-minded focus to meet goals, will often kill initiative and creativity. The overbearing behavior of a leader will inhibit openness and honesty, and it will greatly diminish the quality of any team.

4: Recruiting Employees Who Follow Instead of Lead

By selecting followers rather than potential leaders, the leader of an organization, a department, or a team dramatically limits the potential for growth and his or her own ability to recognize problems brewing on the horizon.

5: Focusing on Punishing Mistakes, Not Celebrating Successes

Many misguided leaders have the mentality that it is their role and duty to catch people doing something wrong. Once this kind of mentality permeates the culture of an organization, the employees become fearful. A sword-wielding leader will never get the best from his or her employees.

6: Showing Signs of Weakness

There is no such thing as “off the record.” It’s simply not good practice for leaders to show weakness to others. Celebrate publicly; Cry alone. Leaders don’t open up to people with their inner feelings of doubt or hurt - half of those people don’t care, and the other half are glad it’s you and not them! Nobody feels sorry for you for more than an hour, but they will never forget your moment of inappropriate vulnerability.

7: Giving in to Group-Thinking

Like it or not, a judgment will be made of the leader based on who influences her, who he spends time with, and whose counsel she seeks. New leaders get in trouble by creating a small inner circle of advisors that nobody can penetrate. This inner circle often leads to 'group-think' and can substantially limit new ideas, creativity, and growth.

8: Practicing Cronyism

Be very careful not to fall into the trap of cronyism. Any leader who pushes “his boys” often causes morale problems within the ranks. Practicing cronyism can also hurt the very people you are trying to help, especially if you push someone into a position before they are ready for the promotion.

9: Being Unduly Influenced by “Bootlickers”

The handling of flatterers and bootlickers is an issue related to cronyism. In all companies, there are people who are very skillful in pleasing the boss by bearing good news and false cheer, and by stroking the boss’s ego. They are always looking for ways to make the boss happy, worrying about getting a lot of “face time” and serving their personal agendas and ambitions. Watch out!

10: Bringing Your Own People into New Assignments

Leaders should avoid bringing a substantial number of former colleagues with them when they move to a new position. A leader who drags “her team” along is likely to undermine the morale of the new company. It will also be very difficult to develop good rapport with new associates and communication channels will be harder to establish. Further, you will gain more credibility as a person of self-confidence and independent thought if you do not drag a group of cronies along with you as you move from job to job.

Common Leadership Mistakes: What You Should Do Instead

Good leadership is all about being effective. In fact, effectiveness is your only job as a leader. Avoiding these 10 common leadership mistakes is a start. Next, work to put in place practices that elicit effectiveness from your team. Delegate. Listen. Encourage. And nurture other leaders.

Be a more effective leader. Delegate. Listen. Encourage. And nurture other leaders.

For more tips, go read my latest book, The Results-Focused Organization. For companies seeking support with change management, contact our SDW team for guidance today. For strategic marketing support, Upstart Group is our trusted partner.


Don Zillioux

Don Zillioux, Ph.D. is Founder and Chief Scientist of SDW Firms and its subsidiaries around the world. For more than 25 years he has advised a diverse variety of businesses large and small throughout North and Central America, Europe, and Russia. He is a recognized thought leader in effective change management and the senior advisor to SDW’s Worldwide Organization Effectiveness practice. This article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, The Field-Guide for Manager's and Supervisors. Learn more at