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The #1 Mistake Most Leaders Make

January  9, 2020   By Cindy Jansen


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The #1 Mistake Most Leaders MakeYou’re going to make mistakes as a leader; you’re only human.

You may have accidentally double-booked and missed a key meeting. Maybe you sent a company-wide email with an embarrassing spelling error. Perhaps you forgot you already introduced yourself to your boss’ spouse at last year’s company picnic.

These types of mistakes are common, but they’re not the type of mistake you’ll likely repeat.

At Living As A Leader, we teach a workshop in our Leadership Development Series known as The Seven Most Common Mistakes Leaders Make.

These mistakes aren’t the “rookie” mistakes we all make from time to time. These are mistakes you might make over and over, no matter how many years of experience you have leading others.

Today we are going to talk about the #1 most common leadership mistake we encounter in our work at Living As A Leader…

Avoidance of key issues.

Key issues typically involve a concern about behavior, performance or a personal issue.

There are several reasons you may avoid key issues with your direct report, your peer, or even your leader:

  • It feels uncomfortable
  • You don’t know the words to use
  • You’re too busy

I was coaching a leader recently, and she shared that she was avoiding an issue with one of her direct reports because she didn’t know how the employee would respond to the conversation. 

When I asked how long she had been avoiding it, she told me it had been one month. She mentioned that in the past, this employee would react negatively and then go to this leader’s boss. 

She simply decided it wasn’t worth her time or worth the ‘follow up conversation’ with her boss. Avoiding felt easier. She said the issue will probably just go away. 

I used to call this my ‘Hope and Pray’ strategy. This is where you hope the employee figures it out on their own and pray it just goes away.  In my experience, this strategy has never paid off.

For so many leaders, we avoid situations because they feel uncomfortable. We don’t know the words to use, we dislike confrontation, or we are simply too busy with our own stuff. Many of us, like this leader, decide it isn’t worth the discomfort.

Here are three things you can do TODAY to overcome avoidance.
  1. Be aware of what you are avoiding and why.

    Is it because of the relationship with the person, because you are uncomfortable or because you have a lack of time?

    When leaders decide to approach the person directly after avoiding for a prolonged amount of time, they’ve often waited too long to voice their concerns resulting in conversations that are overly charged. And as a result, the conversation may become unproductive.

    I like to call these the ‘unglued’ moments. We’ve waited too long and the emotion and built-up frustration lead to a less-than-stellar response. Or, we’ve waited too long and turned the issue into a bigger deal. All the while, the person you need to have a conversation with has no idea that there is even an issue.

    So, let me ask you, “What is one thing you are avoiding today and what is the reason?”

  2. Foster a commitment that you will address key issues.

    You can create a deadline to have resolved the issue or simply schedule the time for a conversation.

    When a leader is not addressing difficult situations, those who report to that leader are watching and waiting for the tough conversation to happen, especially when the unresolved issue directly or indirectly impact them.

    Make a commitment to you and the team. Addressing issues candidly and respectfully will help your people be the best they can be.

  3. Find the courage to have the conversation.

    Courage is there for the taking; you just have to choose it. If you struggle with courage or confidence, which so many of us do, find someone who can help you. This can be a trusted peer, leader or friend.

    It may also help if you shift your mindset from, “I HAVE to have this conversation” to “I GET to have this conversation.” Instead of hiding behind the discomfort, recognize and accept that it will probably be difficult. You may find that merely admitting it to yourself will make it less uncomfortable.

As a leader, my greatest regrets are the conversations I didn’t have, not the ones that didn’t go as well as I had hoped.

I regret the times I chickened out and didn’t have a tough conversation. These were the times I was more concerned about how I was feeling. I had my own comfort and self-interest in mind. Those missed conversations could have helped our team or changed the trajectory of someone else’s work or career. I wish I had had more courage in those moments.

By addressing tough issues early on, you reduce the risk of a situation getting blown out of proportion. You will make your team more effective, productive, and confident in your leadership abilities!  You also increase the confidence you and others have in your leadership capabilities.

I hardly need to tell you that the role of a leader is an important one. You're responsible for guiding and motivating your team to achieve its goals. 

When things don't go right, it’s up to you to offer guidance and re-directive feedback. Focus on how you can make a shift from self-centered thinking to other-centered thinking. 

Remember, when you become a leader, it’s not about you anymore.

We teach leaders of all levels to become effective coaches in our workshop, “Be A Great Coach.” This workshop is included in our Leadership Development Series, which is available to your organization In-House or locally in Wisconsin.

At Living As A Leader, we offer a Leadership Development Series designed to produce leaders that can positively shape the cultural environment, reduce turnover and achieve crucial business initiatives. We do this by providing training, coaching and consulting with a focus on pragmatic communication tools for leaders at all levels of your organization.

For more information, contact Steph Kotlarek at

About the Author

Cindy Jansen

Facilitator and Coach, Living As A Leader®

Cindy Jansen is a strategic business partner and creative HR professional with 18+ years of proven leadership and experience in talent acquisition, performance management and employee relations coaching entry level to the C- suite. Cindy spent her career in human resources leveraging the inherent talent of employees while directly impacting bottom line results. She has worked in the non-profit and profit space.

Email Cindy Cindy's Bio

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