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Leadership Mistakes to Avoid

Always try to say positive things about your direct reports when you are going to ask them to do something extra, or something onerous that no one else wants to do. You have to set them up right or they may try to back out.

If they are not performing well and it looks like you’re going to have to fire them, try not to make them suspicious. You don’t want to imply that they need to change their work behavior; that would make them sad.

Don’t attempt to learn too much about the actual work they do. All that detail gets boring. Knowing the job is their business. If you make a few mistakes – so what. You have a big job and a lot on your plate.

Only make comments about the obvious performance elements of their job, like productivity. Try not to address the details of their work – like the challenges they have to overcome to get the job done. Best not to get into the weeds.

Stop by intermittently to say something positive; keep it superficial and use the same phrase over and over again – like, “thank you.” You want to make them comfortable and confident in the fact that you are predictable.

Try to change your management tactics every time you attend a management seminar or workshop. Let them know that you are looking for any gimmick that will work for you. If it embarrasses them – too bad. It’s your job to get them to work harder, and it’s fair to use any tactic you can find.

Try to say nice things to them when you have to; avoid giving them performance feedback. Let them figure out how to do the job. If they can’t do that, well – too bad.

Spend quality time with your obvious favorites; socialize with the people who buddy up to you and kiss your ass. You’re only human. Besides, you don’t want to take up your highest performer’s time with chit-chat. Some of these people think they are as good as you are, always coming up with ideas for improvements and the like.

Let them know who the boss is. Use a tone of voice, gestures, and words that tell them who is in charge. Don’t be afraid to show a strong emotion; that’s your prerogative. If they can’t guess how you like things done…well, naturally you get furious.

If you really have to say something positive, try to gush, use emotional words, and make it theatrical. You can tell you’ve hit the mark if their face gets red and they look like they want to run.

When you’re trying to be nice to them, it’s best to use some kind of cliché. Frontline employees are simple people and they like repetition. Say things like, “good job, and thanks.” Or things like, “I’m going to have to give you a pat on the back,” or “here’s an attaboy for pulling that double so that Jim could go to the hockey game with me. You deserve a warm-fuzzy for that.”

Try not to collect any personal information about the employee. Asking about wives and kids and hobbies only makes you look like an ordinary Joe instead of the boss. Make sure they understand that you don’t fraternize with your subordinates – only the employees you drink with, or invite over for a barbecue


Let them know that a lot of the positive things you try to do are part of a management game that irritates you as much as it does them. Let them know that your boss is making you treat them nice to get them to work harder. They will appreciate your honesty.

Be sure you make the same positive comments to each employee – even the ones who are not doing their work. You don’t want to appear biased.

Treat everyone the same, irrespective of the difference in their contribution. Don’t fall into the favoritism trap. Even the people who screw up and cause everyone else to work harder deserve equal treatment.

Don’t be afraid to offend an employee if they deserve it. Being parental, authoritarian or inappropriately emotional is just expressing yourself honestly. After all, you are the boss and have a right to vent.

Try not to be squeamish about taking credit for something an employee did or said. You are the boss and they work for you, so any thing they do is because you are a good manager.

Never ask their opinion about anything; it makes you look weak. If you wanted ideas you would come up with your own. Asking employees questions makes you look like you don’t know more than they do; of course you do. Why else would you be the boss?

If they manage to force an idea on you, tell them you will look into it and then just forget about it. The boss has a lot to do and goofy ideas are just a distraction.

Make a big fuss over the employee of the month, but don’t let the same person get it more than once. That’s not democratic.

If you ever get trapped into saying something positive at an awards ceremony or something like that, make sure you really lay it on about the high performing employee. “The reason Jim wins every year is because he is the best.” The rest of the people can just face the facts that they are never going to be on top.

If anyone asks you on a survey or an interview or in conversation whether you positively reinforce your employees, always say, “Yes.” Your subordinates know better than to contradict you. Leadership is nutty about this kind of thing and HR positively has a cow if you say you don’t. Let them know that praise, attaboys, warm fuzzies and pats on the back are part of your style.

Don’t forget to greet all your female employees with terms of endearment like, “Hi honey,” or “Hi there little lady.” Better still, just call them all the same thing. They like “honey,” because it shows you are friendly; they will believe that you really think they are equal to men.