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How to Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Leadership by Brian Chernett

Brian Chernett

Brian Chernett

1. Leading from too far in front

Some ‘visionary’ leaders believe that if they set off on a route march to the future, the rest of the team will follow and that those who are unable to do so are simply casualties of the process. What if the team genuinely have problems keeping up? … The leader will eventually be alone. A speeding bullet leaves a vacuum behind it and that vacuum can pull a business apart. Communication is important and it needs to include everyone who needs to know what is happening and why.

2. Having a team and doing it yourself

Sometimes it can seem that it is just too hard to educate and coach team members into the right way of doing things and it is easier to do the job yourself. In the short term the job gets done but when it comes to the next time, the problem will still remain. The power of a team is so much greater than that of one individual but if that one individual cannot let go of the detail, the team will never achieve that potential power. Decision making must be moved down the organisation to the place where it can best be made. Delegation of tasks without giving responsibility simply creates bottlenecks and keeps the leader tied to working in the business rather than on it.

3. Jumping in without thinking

Some leaders carry in their heads a model of leadership that requires them to be decisive. Not a bad model unless the leader is driven to decide before he/she understands enough of the context to make a reasoned decision. Taking ‘six impossible decisions’ before breakfast or operating on the principle of ready, fire, aim, can be de-motivating for the work force and lead to the business being ‘marched up the hill and down. Over analysis, causing decisions to be deferred and inaction to take over is, of course, equally bad. Knowing when to decide and when to wait is a skill of a great leader.

4. Boiling the ocean

How many grand designs have you seen that have been launched in a blaze of publicity and then later they have run out of steam and failed?  Government IT projects seem to do it regularly. Taking on a huge goal without breaking it into manageable projects can result in the individuals charged with delivering it failing to understand what their next action should be. Good projects have deliverables that can be seen to be achieved on a regular basis.

5. Playing favourites

It is human nature that we find it easier to work with some people and more difficult to relate to others. As a leader, this natural tendency can lead to splinter groups developing within the team and to some members believing that there is a chosen group who get favoured treatment. Difficult as it is to achieve, consistency of treatment leads to loyalty and a more cohesive team.

6. Not playing members in their best position

Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great talks about getting the right people on the bus. He also emphasises that you need to have the right people in the right positions. If you have people on your team who show strength in a particular aspect of the business, try playing them in that position. Sometimes, changing where someone plays in the team can make a significant difference to performance. So try to find the strengths in your team and use them – and recruit to supplement those strengths and fill in for weaknesses in the team. Finding strengths can be achieved using psychometric testing and other approaches such as Belbin, Myers Briggs – and others.

7. Not understanding the power of your own presence/words

When Gerald Ratner stood up to speak to an audience of his peers at the IOD in 1991, he thought he was amongst friends. He joked “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, because it’s total crap.” He also commented that some of his firm’s earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.” When reported in the press, they didn’t come across as funny and Ratner was forced to leave the business. As a leader, you need to remember that your remarks could have a much more powerful effect on team motivation or your business reputation than you intend. A throwaway remark maybe regretted far longer than it takes to say.

Bonus ‘sin’ – Not seeking help when it is available

No leader knows it all and there are times when there is no-one inside the business in whom to confide or from whom to seek advice. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get advice and support. In fact, soldiering on without the support of others who have been there before you and can help you to avoid the hard lessons may be the biggest sin of all. Organisations such as The Academy for Chief Executives can help here, providing peer based Experiential Business Learning.

Brian Chernett is founder of The Academy for Chief Executives (ACE) – He has 43 years’ experience as managing director of private and public companies, including subsidiaries of Booker Bros McConnell, the Landmark Group, and several other major companies. Find out more at

The Academy community provides a great place to build your leadership skills and learn more about motivating and developing your people, and how to focus the top team for the good of your company.  As the leading providers of experiential learning, the purpose of the Academy is to inspire leaders to achieve their dreams by sharing and learning from real life experiences.

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