5 + 5 = 10 Mistakes to Avoid

Posted 06.05.2009

Based on a study of 11,000 360 degree surveys, leadership feedback gurus Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman have identified ten behaviors found in the bottom 10% of leaders.

The top five mistakes they make are:

  1. Lack energy and enthusiasm
  2. Accept their own mediocre performance
  3. Lack clear vision and direction
  4. Have poor judgment
  5. Don’t collaborate

Pretty easy to see how leaders in the bottom 10% would have characteristics like that.  But what about leaders in the top 10% or 20%?  How do they run off the rails?  (And they do up to 40% of the time.)

In our Next Level Leadership™ group coaching program, we’ve run a 360 over the past three years on the skills and behaviors that rising executives need to exhibit to make successful transitions. We’ve run it with almost 400 high potential executives at this point and, out of 72 specific behaviors, the bottom five in our database are:

  1. Paces himself/herself by building in regular breaks from work.
  2. Manages workload so that he/she has time for unexpected problems or issues.
  3. Spends less time using his/her functional skills and more time encouraging team members to use theirs.
  4. Regularly takes time to step back and define or redefine what needs to be done.
  5. Focuses less on day to day operations and more on identifying and taking advantage of strategic opportunities.

What do these low ranking characteristics of high potential leaders have in common?  One of the most important threads is that they are all behaviors of "go to people."  These are the people who are going to get the job done no matter what even if (especially if?) that means taking heroic measures at the 11th hour.  Of course, the challenge for go to people who have risen to the next level is that there is simply too much to do for that approach to continue to work. 

If you’re like me, when you see a list of ten mistakes to avoid, you immediately start scanning it with the question in mind, “OK, am I doing any of these?”  If you find one from the first list of five, my advice is to step back and examine your motivation for the role that you're in.  What could you do to reconnect to the purpose of your work?

If you find that you have an opportunity in the bottom five, pick one to work on that you think will make the biggest difference and enlist the help of some trusted colleagues for advice on how to be better.  Look for opportunities to practice some of their ideas in the "school of real life."