Seven Mistakes New Leaders Make

I have worked with new leaders for over 25 years. Some make smooth transitions to leadership, but for many others, it is a rocky transition.

Here are seven mistakes new leaders make and how to overcome them:

  1. Keep on doing exactly what got them there. Wrong. Most employees are first noticed as leaders by being technically competent, achieving more, and working harder than others. When promoted to leadership, many try to continue their technical superiority and uber accomplishments. But, the transition to leadership is a passage. Leaders need to stop doing most of what got them there and, instead, learn new skills and behaviors. Specifically, stop serving in the role of technical expert (but still stay up-to-date on trends) and learn the skills required of leaders: Aligning, motivating, empowering, coaching and recognizing their team, and building relationships with other stakeholders.

As leaders are promoted further up the organization, they need to recognize that they are in yet another passage, from leading individuals to leading managers or directors. They need to become more strategic and use operating mechanisms to align their functional department. Perhaps nothing is sadder than watching a Vice President, still trying to be the technical expert, micro manage individuals, when instead they should be paying attention to business and technical trends, setting strategic direction, developing their workforce, developing reliable processes with supportive technologies, and inciting top performance and innovation.

  1. Not having self-awareness. Many new leaders don’t understand how their choice of words, tone of voice, and behaviors impact the motivation and performance of their workers. I recommend that all new leaders take assessments to identify their leadership and communication style to develop this vitally important self-awareness. Leaders who gain self-awareness of their communication style, strengths, and development areas (and how to minimize the impact of their weaknesses), quickly become more effective. Going a step further, I encourage leaders to share their communication and leadership style with their teams. They can also invite their teams to go through the same assessments, and then discuss the most effective communication style for the team.
  1. Not recognizing the importance of aligning their teams. Many employees don’t know how their work fits into the company’s purpose and business strategies, especially in large, matrixed or geographically dispersed organizations. Or worse, they don’t emotionally connect with their goals and work. The biggest motivators of people are purpose, the work itself, and a sense of achievement.  While money keeps most employees coming to work, it is purpose that drives extraordinary effort. When leaders align a company’s purpose and strategies to the work of individuals and teams, it is golden. Achieving this alignment takes constant communication and clarification. One and done communication won’t cut it.
  1. Not adjusting their leadership and communication style to fit the demographics of their team. Would you lead a team of managers all born in Atlanta the same way you would lead a global team of managers from five European countries, Japan and India? Of course not. Dynamic leaders need to adjust their leadership and communication style to fit the demographics and cultures of their team members. As with Mistake Number 2 above, the communication style of the team ought to be openly assessed and discussed and norms set.
  1. Not respecting the turbulent pace of business and constant state of change. This pace requires continual clarity on business insights, employee roles, information flows, team operating norms, and decision rights. When was the last time you had a goal that lasted for a whole year? The 1990s? The fast pace of business requires constant clarity on new market data and trends and changing priorities. Furthermore, most businesses are global and geographically dispersed, so more meetings will be conducted using virtual technology. Virtual teams can be more effective than co-located teams when clarity, operating norms, and smart technology are applied.
  1. Not honoring the Double E. The first “E” is to empower your team. Addressing Mistakes 1-3 above will help with this, but leaders need to get to know each team member and understand their interests, strengths and development areas. When employees are technically competent and motivated, leaders need to get out of their way and provide a sense of achievement. When employees need training and coaching, leaders need to provide it NOW. Once employees have mastered a new skill, again, get out of their way. If they still can’t perform well on their job, don’t ignore it. Instead, work with a failing employee to find a role that’s a better fit for their skills.
  1. Not honoring the Second E. Here is a riddle: Which of these traits is most important for achieving smart teams? Intelligence, professional expertise, interest, or empathy? Based on empirical research, it is empathy. While intelligence, professional expertise and interest are necessary for serving on the team, it is empathy that drives greater teamwork and superior performance.

Have you avoided these seven mistakes of new leaders? Join the conversation.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at or visit For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.US.

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