The Top 10 Mistakes of Leaders

Mistake #1: Failure to plan. The most frightening and common mistake leaders make is to have no plan or template to follow before, during, or even after a crisis occurs. During a crisis, a leader must align three critical strategic elements: the Goals, the People, and the Resources. The goals define the “What” – that is, the specific outcomes and objectives of the crisis intervention. The people define the “Who” – getting the right people in the right positions with the right teams. The resources define the “How” that the leaders will use as they apply all the various tangible and intangible resources available to them to meet the goals.

Mistake #2: Failure to determine & follow a hierarchy. One of the most critical aspects of successful crisis navigation is to determine and follow a proper hierarchy of executive and field leadership. Even leaders with a pre-set crisis action template often fail to align the goals, people, and resources necessary to win during the crisis. When the stress and pressure of a crisis hits, something as simple as a basic “Call Down List” of who to call, what is their responsibility and how to reach them is critically important during a crisis.

Mistake #3: Failure to be visible, present and attentive. Leaders who hide or appear removed from the crisis negate their perceived and expected leadership actions. Visibility must be delivered during and after the crisis in four areas: colleagues (crisis team and employees), customers, constituents (vendors, stockholders, suppliers), and communities (cities served, local and national media).

Mistake #4: Failure to listen & comprehend. A vital skill leaders must leverage during a crisis is comprehensive listening. They must set aside their egos and be willing to listen to all parties involved. Only through powerful listening can a leader build the right environment of openness, trust, and professionalism necessary to navigate everyone through the crisis. Even the simple act of taking notes (or even assigning a full-time scribe) is an invaluable listening tool that helps a leader assemble and digest the potentially powerful ideas of all involved.

Mistake #5: Failure to effectively communicate. The majority of communication failures during a crisis are electronic equipment failures, although human communication failures are all too frequent during a crisis. Unclear goals, misunderstood instructions, poor delegation, incomplete feedback systems – lack of decision-making – these are the core communication failures within most crisis situations. Leaders must therefore continually focus on crafting and sending clear, unambiguous communications with minimal error for misinterpretation by their supervisors, peers, subordinates, customers, community, or the media.

Mistake #6: Failure to try new things. The very nature of a crisis mandates leaders be open and willing to change fast, to embrace new ways on the fly and problem-solving techniques never before imagined without projecting fear. Yet far too often when in the midst of crisis, well-meaning leaders over-rely on the ‘ways of yesterday’ and let fear distract, or worse, control them. Leaders must be adept in knowing when and how to (1) innovate current encumbering systems, (2) create new and more flexible systems, and (3) effectively use their intuition. Through an understanding of the interconnected roles of innovation, creativity, and intuition in a crisis, leaders are much better prepared to implement the best actions for today’s crisis environment.

Mistake #7: Failure to give up control. It is only natural for leaders to assume control over a crisis, and in fact, they should. The problem is when a leader refuses to give up enough control necessary to effectively negate the crisis. In times of crisis, leaders must create an environment that moves beyond delegation (do what I tell you to do) to emancipation (giving people the freedom to succeed). Proper delegation of the crisis plan and flexibility to adjust as circumstances rapidly change is essential to success.

Mistake #8: Failure to act. Inappropriate indecision kills a response team’s enthusiasm, motivation, and commitment to succeed. Leaders must therefore have the confidence to make the call – to pull the trigger – and do something. People want their leaders to show confidence even when they’re not 100% sure the leader’s decision is the right thing to do. Such a call to action requires real courage, the willingness to act upon your convictions. With a solid plan, surrounded by a well-trained crisis team, leaders are far more likely to take the right action at the right time for the right reasons – to be truly courageous in the face of tragedy.

Mistake #9: Failure to lead. A crisis demands leadership – real leadership. No one can perfectly “manage” a crisis – there’s simply too many variables. Only through real leadership (making tough choices, facing opposition, under extreme pressure) does a company, a community, or a nation survive. Failure to lead during a crisis is not just a failure – it’s a tragedy. Those in charge must lead the crisis – or the crisis will lead them!

Mistake #10: Failure to debrief. Most people just want to get through a crisis and forget about it. But ask anyone – from a firefighter, to a navy seal, to a fighter jet pilot – and they will unanimously agree that one of the most powerful learning devices they integrate into their professional lives is a post-event analysis often call a “Debrief Session.” A “Debrief Session” is a focused, well-structured, and comprehensive analysis that includes such areas as the efficacy of the original goals and objectives, actions taken, leadership decisions and adjustments made, successes and failures, and perhaps most important, lessons learned to apply into the future.