Management can be risky business for new and experienced leaders, but it doesn’t have to be.

Picture the worst manager you ever worked with until you see all their negative traits clearly in your mind. Chances are, they didn’t set out to be the worst boss ever. Leadership, just like any other job, takes time to develop. If you’re a new or even an experienced leader, you could be making your way onto a team member’s negative leadership qualities list. Read on for seven common mistakes leaders make, and how to avoid them.

No. 1: They ignore their weaknesses.

Great leadership is going to come down to your ability to communicate in a way that your team members need to help them be successful. And you can’t do that if you aren’t self-aware enough to identify and acknowledge your weaknesses—no one is excellent at everything. Perhaps you’re prone to disorganization, shaky with time management, or quick to become defensive when someone offers you feedback.

That’s not to say that you should live in fear of your weaknesses—remember that you were put into your position because of your demonstrated strengths and expertise. But that doesn’t mean you have to know everything. It’s ok (and essential) that you ask others for their suggestions and opinions. They’ll buy into you if they feel like you care about their input.

Blogs, leadership books, podcasts and TedTalks are available for nearly every topic you might want to improve upon. Plus the more often you’re actively learning, the easier it is to avoid the next pitfall.

No. 2: They forget where they came from.

After a while of performing the same role, it becomes easy to forget where you came from. Think about the 10th time you’ve heard the same question from a guest in a day. Do you ever feel slightly annoyed even though it’s that guest’s first time to ask? This can happen with other team members as well. When a team member makes a mistake, don’t automatically assume they’re a moron for not getting something that’s “just so simple.” Remember what it was like being new, and that you very likely made the same or similar mistakes yourself, so consider how you’d like to be coached in that situation.

Beware of fostering an “us vs. them” mentality with the team, other departments, other shifts, or even your guests. You aren’t competing with the night crew. You’re competing with the team you were yesterday. As such, offer your help, be enthusiastic about teaching them new things, and focus on being the best team possible, and you’ll avoid that combative, unproductive mindset and build respect and gain influence.

No. 3: They confuse authority with influence.

Authority is the power to make decisions, give direction or control someone or something whereas influence is the power to cause change without necessarily directly forcing it to happen. The first is what John Maxwell calls the “positional” level of leadership – people follow you because they have to. At this level, it can be difficult to get teams to perform at their best because they’re not sold on you or your mission. But you can start to gain influence through strengthening your knowledge base to become a facility expert. Always seek out new development opportunities, get the facts of every situation, and learn all you can about your entire organization, not just your place in it.

But true workplace influence can only be achieved when you also build strong relationships that cause others to follow you because they want to. Getting better at your team relationships is a tall order, but you can take great strides by actively caring about others and listening to them, giving them credit for team successes and taking responsibility for when your team falls short. Keep your promises and apologize when necessary. In short, you become worthy of being followed, with or without the position.

No. 4: They demand respect without earning it.

Respect is a funny thing, and like with influence, your position doesn’t automatically earn it. To continue to gain influence and earn respect, understand your new team. Many younger team members have likely always been encouraged to question authority and reject the status quo.

Earning respect can be especially tricky for new leaders now managing people they used to be peers with. Perhaps there is a little envy from their former coworkers. If this is you, it’s quite possible you need to clear the air. Again, no one is excellent at everything, and few people are excellent 100% of the time, even at their strengths. When you were an individual performer, did you ever goof off with teammates while on shift? Ever gripe about another manager or teammate? Or exhibit any behavior that you must now redirect to your new team? If so, you probably need to clear the air with a one on one meeting, in a group session or even in a shift meeting. Acknowledge any previous negative behavior, set a positive tone going forward and seek commitment. It might sound like:

“I’ve been thinking about what we have to do to make our department/shift successful and realized that there were times when I complained without offering up solutions (goofed off behind the counter, etc.). And that’s not who I want to be at work. I want to work on that, will you help me? (they’ll answer yes!) Great, if you should see me complaining about someone else, say something right away. I want to create the best work environment possible for and with all of us.”

Approaching the conversation like this can work because team members see you acknowledging a former negative behavior and asking for help in correcting it. Follow up with asking them if there’s something they’d like to work on with the team’s help as well. You’ll be building a committed team with everyone working towards common goals and showing a little vulnerability—and both will earn respect.

One note of caution about vulnerability, though. Letting them see you sweat builds respect but letting them see you melt down does not. Be sure you’re not using vulnerability as an excuse to justify poor behavior.

No. 5: They jump to conclusions.

Remember that assumptions break down trust. So before you begin to redirect or correct a team member, it is important to hear their side of the story. Ask questions like, “how did the conversation with that guest go?” instead of “why did you do that?” to show that you’re willing to listen before making any judgments. Imagine you have a team member who’s been late three times, and you’re tired of it. You confront the team member like this:

You: “Jasmine, this is the third time in two weeks you’ve been late for your shift. I’m sick of it. You’re showing a lack of respect for our facility, our guests and our team.”
Team Member: “I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that my mom started chemotherapy last week and I’ve had to pick my little brother up from school.”

I know, you just imagined a stake being driven right to your heart—but that’s the risk you run if you jump to conclusions vs. asking questions to understand the whole story. Now, there is a time and a place for the “this behavior needs to stop immediately” conversation, but just get the whole picture to be sure it’s appropriate.

No. 6: They don’t delegate appropriately.

Delegation done wrong can damage your team’s efficiency in many ways. Assigning the best tasks to yourself or a select few can cause outcries of unfairness. Keeping all the tough tasks for yourself robs staff of valuable learning or leadership opportunities. And feeling like you have to do everything puts you at risk for developing “I’m the only one who works here” syndrome. In no time, you’ll be taking on too much work, increasing your stress levels, sense of overwhelming, and inciting even worse behaviors.

Your team wants to shine, and it’s important for their growth, and the good of the team, that they get to. A few ideas for delegating:

  • If there are several tasks to be completed in no certain order, lay out the tasks and ask which one(s) they’d like to complete. This gives them an opportunity to choose what they think they’d be better at or would prefer to complete.
  • If the task is difficult and requires more training, consider offering to teach someone else so you’re not stuck always doing it.
  • To direct someone towards a single task, consider how, “hey, could you go sweep and mop both restrooms please?” might be preferable to “go sweep and mop the bathroom.”

No. 7: They forget it’s supposed to be fun.

Remember why we wanted to work in the amusement industry? Because it’s fun! Sometimes the shift to leadership can cause us to forget we should be having fun. There’s a lot to be done, and leaders often take their work personally, but we should never forget that our business is to help families, children, coworkers and teams make some of the best memories of their lives. That’s meaningful, honorable work. Be proud of that.

But just like not forgetting where you came from, keep tuned in to what you love about your guests, facility, and new team. If you’re having fun, you’ll have less stress, more productivity and be much better prepared for any difficult situation.

The road to becoming a terrific leader can be tricky to navigate if you aren’t paying enough attention. But with the right amount of self-awareness and focus on the little details that build teams, you’re well on your way to being at the top of the most admired list.

Have other pitfalls of leadership we should avoid? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter!

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