FinTopt2 08-04-48  

The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make



Hans Finzel

David C Cook, 2007, 222 pp., ISBN  978-1-59669-227-5



Hans Finzel is president and CEO of WorldVenture, an international leadership-development organization.  He is an author, consultant, and leadership expert.  Top Ten Mistakes is easy to read and understand.  It provides very practical suggestions for avoiding the pitfalls that undermine leaders.  Each chapter is followed by "Quick Tips" for those who want to go straight to the bottom line.


Leadership is a lot more intense than I ever imagined.  Further, it can be dangerous.  "We hold the power to do irreparable damage to our followers by the mistakes we make." (14)  "The greatest lessons I've learned about good leadership have been through my own mistakes." (16)


"Great leaders forget what it feels like to be led.  Some have never even experienced 'followership,' because they have led from the moment they were born…." (18)


Definition.  "Leadership is influence."  "Anyone who influences someone else to do something has led that person."  "A leader takes people where they would never go on their own." (19)


"What makes leaders fail?"  "We lead as were led.  We wing it." (19)


"The good you do can be destroyed by the precautions you fail to take."  "One or two glaring blind spots can ruin our influence."  "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of good leadership." (22) 


Chapter 1.  The Top-Down Attitude

Autocratic domineering.  This is the mother of all hang-ups.  It is foundational to all the rest of the mistakes.  "If you have it, you will spread it to everything your leadership hands touch." (25)


"Knowledge in an organization is power.  A leader can use this power to dominate underlings by keeping them guessing and in the dark." (27)


"The top-down attitude is defined by people who believe that everyone should serve them, as opposed to believing they should be serving others within the institution."  (32) 


"Servant leadership is about caring for others more than for ourselves.  It is about compassion for everyone who serves the group." (33)  "Jesus demonstrated servant leadership by taking off his robe, picking up a towel, and washing his disciples' feet." (35)


Alternatives to top-down attitude include: participatory management, facilitator style, democratic leadership, flat organizational characteristics, and servant leadership. (36)


Chapter 2.  Putting Paperwork before Peoplework

"People are opportunities, not interruptions." (43)

"All Task-oriented type A personalities must learn to slow down and allow people into our lives."  "There is still no substitute for quiet, prolonged exposure of one soul to another." (44) 


Here's a simple but reliable test to discover whether you are task- or people-oriented.  "When someone walks into your office…and interrupts your task at hand for the sake of conversation, how do you react?  Do you view that person as an interruption or an opportunity?  Does your face brighten as your people antenna powers up, or do you grimace inside at this 'interruption'?" (45) 


"Type A personality…is a set of characteristics that includes being impatient, excessively time-conscious, insecure about one's status, highly competitive, hostile and aggressive, and incapable of relaxation." (46)


"Sometimes the good we are doing in leadership is totally obscured by a style that alienates our followers." (47-8)  If I fail in this one regard people may conclude that I don't care about them. (48)


"…We have subtly made task orientation more desirable in our leader selection process." [But] "leadership is essentially a people business. Experts confirm that the most effective leaders spend most of their time being with people and solving people problems." (49)


"It is always direct contact with a person that has the most powerful impact on our lives." (53)  "People will only be influenced and changed as we allow them into our personal lives." (54) 


"Someone said that a man's best friend, aside from the dog, is the wastebasket." (55)


"When all is said and done, the crowns of my achievements will not be the systems I managed, the things I wrote, or the building I built, but the people I personally, permanently influenced through direct contact." (57) 


Chapter 3.  The Absence of Affirmation

"We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch of kindness." (61)


"Humans…need to have their emotional batteries charged often." (62) 


"And of all personal touches, I find the short, handwritten 'nice job' note to have the highest impact." (66, quoting Tom Peters in "Management Excellence," The Business Journal)


"'Listen' is the most important word in a leader's language." (68) 


Chapter 4.  No Room for Mavericks

"Mavericks [pioneers] can save us from the slide toward institutionalism." (73)


"Have we made it impossible for bright rising stars and maverick go-getters to live within our organization?  When we become too preoccupied with policy, procedure, and the fine-tuning of conformity to organizational standards, in effect, we squeeze out some of our most gifted people."  "Mavericks are messy by nature….  Mavericks are necessary for us to be creative."  "Mavericks are free spirits that have always been misunderstood." (74-5)


"…the older an organization, the less room for truly creative people." (77) 


"One of the best ways to take the wind out of the sails of visionaries is to send their ideas to a committee." (81) 


"…aim for a flexible response to policies and procedures.  If you're in senior management or on the board and in control, take some risk and bring some fresh young blood into the equation."  "Give them room to succeed."  "Rules are made to be broken, principles are not." (84) 


Not all troublemakers and malcontents are worth the pain to have around. (85) 


Chapter 5.  Dictatorship in Decision Making

"The major players in any organization are like its stockholders: They should have a say in its direction." (89)


"Don't be a jack-in-the-box leader.  This is the person in charge who pops out of his box and declares, 'It's been decided.'" (91)


"The greatest ideas bubble up from the workers." (92) 


"It is impossible to learn anything important about anyone until we get him or her to disagree with us; it is only in contradiction that character is disclosed." (93, quoting Sydney J. Harris)


"One big mistake dictators make is believing their own press reports.  They think that the bigger they are, the more they know, and the more they should control others." (94) 


"The alternative to dictatorship in decision making is team leadership." (102) "'What makes a good manager?' someone asked Yogi Berra.  'A good ball club,' Yogi replied." (102)


"Leadership is teamwork, coaching, creativity--and the synergy of a group of people inspired by their leader." (103)  "We as leaders pray together, play together, and do a lot of talking about the best course of action on any given decision." "…a good leader will try as often as possible to let those he is leading make decisions." (104)


"The more I can push decisions into the various departments, the more ownership and enthusiasm there will be in implementing the decisions." (105)


Chapter 6.  Dirty Delegation - Refusing to Relax and Let Go

"Nothing frustrates those who work for you more than sloppy delegation with too many strings attached." (111)


"Delegation takes time.  Task-oriented people just want to get the job done; their impatience precludes waiting on others to do the job." (114)


"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it." (114 quoting Theodore Roosevelt) 


"Delegation enables personal ownership." (115) 



Four stages of delegation: 1. assignment, 2. authority, 3. accountability, 4. affirmation.  (116) 


"We must be careful not to micromanage people to death.  Delegation means giving people the freedom to decide how jobs will be done." (116) 


"…different kinds of followers need different styles of supervision," (121)  Those with low interest, low motivation and low skill need telling and selling before participating and delegating.  The higher the level of interest, motivation and skill, the less telling and the more participating and delegating they need. (123)


"Don't do other people's work for them." (124) 


"Key Ingredients for Clean Delegation:

1.      Have faith in the one to whom you delegate.

2.      Release the desire to do it 'better' yourself.

3.      Relax from the obsession that it has to be done your way.

4.      Practice patience in the desire to do it faster yourself.

5.      Vision to develop others by delegating." (125)


Chapter 7.  Communication Chaos - Singing from the Same Page in the Hymnal

"Rumor mills are part and parcel of every work group."  "…people can begin to create their own reality if the true reality is not communicated."  "Never assume that anyone knows anything.  This is a core leadership principle.  We can never communicate enough in our organizations." (130)


"The folks at the furthest extremities desperately need to know what is going on in the minds of those at the leadership center, if they are to feel comfortable, safe, and knowledgeable about their work." (131)


"There is never a time when more in-house communication is needed than when a new leader arrives on the scene.  People need to know what to expect of their new leader.  If you are that person, make sure you over-communicate as an obsession." (137)


"Leaders must figure out ways to tap into that underground flow of information.  They must keep current on the undercurrents.  The more people you lead, the more you must listen.  Effective leadership has more to do with listening than with talking."  "…listen to those who are in the trenches and rely on that information to make wise decisions." (138)  "Nothing stops the progress of an organization more quickly than leaders failing to listen.  Like hardening of the arteries, restricted communication will destroy a leader's credibility." (140)


"Communicate the big picture with passion." (141)


Your followers need to be clear on four basic areas: the vision and values of the group, the chain of command (who is responsible for what), organizational charts (how the work is organized), and job descriptions. (144-45)


"There are no little people in your organization."  "Everyone is important." (146)


Chapter 8.  Missing the Clues of Corporate Culture

"Corporate culture is 'the way we do things around here.'" (151)  "An organizations' corporate culture is the way insiders behave based on the values and group traditions they hold." (152)  It is a set of unwritten rules.  Each organization has a unique personality.  "Corporate culture is a powerful force.  It can at times be so strong that people develop a religious attitude toward their company, so devoted they are to its culture." (154)


"When you walk into a new organization for the first time, you can feel the culture much more than an insider can." (155) 


"Understanding the difference between values and beliefs has been very liberating for me.  I learned to give up the right to be right when it is not a moral or ethical issue." (161)


"There are actually different subcultures within any organization.  At times two subcultures can become so incompatible that they split, an event that often happens in local church settings." (165)


"A culture audit can bring to the surface conflicts burrowed deep within the organization that are stifling all possibilities for effectiveness."  (166) 


"Harness your corporate culture.  Write your perceived culture on paper.  Have your leadership team individually list their values and beliefs.  Use one page fore each.  After each has written them, share them among the team and compare them.  Compile, then integrate and simplify your group's list of corporate values and beliefs.  Move from individual views to those the group as a whole holds most important.  When you complete this process you will have a list of your organization's core values.  Develop a vision statement.  Develop a statement that reflects where you envision going and growing as a group.  Make sure all your top leaders are a part of writing this statement and that they believe in it 100 percent." (173)


Chapter 9.  Success without Successors

"Mentoring is a nonnegotiable function of successful leadership." (177)


"Success without a successor is failure." (179 quoting Warren Webster)


Many leaders make things ugly by not leaving when it's time.  Keep a running list of up-and-coming leaders who may someday be ready to pick up where you leave off.  See them as the ultimate continuation of your leadership.  Watch both current leaders and the rising pool of new talent. (180-81)


Observe two key areas: how well they get along with people and how well they accomplish excellent work. (182)


"…a leader needs all different kinds of mentoring relationships to succeed in his or her leadership.  Mentoring includes upward (someone more advanced mentoring you), downward (you mentoring those below you), internal peer (peers inside your organization) and external peer (peers outside your organization).  (188)


"To end well, we must not get too wrapped up in our own indispensability.  Humility is the key to finishing well and passing the torch on to our successors.  One of the keys to a successful leadership transition is to learn to hold our positions loosely." (191)  And prepare for retirement.  (194) 


Chapter 10.  Failure to Focus on the Future

"Vision is an effective leader's chief preoccupation." (201)


"I think being a leader is a lot like driving a sports car over a narrow, winding mountain road. …I find myself continually asking these two questions: What's around the next curve? And What is just over the horizon?  It could be the greatest opportunity we have ever stumbled upon or a cow in the road that spells disaster!" (203) 


"Our past successes can be our greatest roadblocks to future accomplishments, because what worked in that foreign country of the past will not necessarily work today." (204)  "My greatest fear is irrelevance." (206)


"Leadership is seeing the consequences of our actions further in the future than those around us can." (205 quoting Bill Gothard)


"The most notable trait of great leaders, certainly of great change leaders, however, is their quest for learning." (206 quoting John Kotter in Leading Change)


"Leaders are paid to be dreamers.  In fact, the higher you go in leadership, the more your work is about the future.  I have very little influence on what is going to happen in my organization in the next six months, but I am making daily decisions that could have a profound impact on us five years down the road." (208)


"The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage." (210 quoting Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline)  "There are two ways to approach the future: as learners or as closed experts." [those who already know-it-all.] (210)


"The leaders must plan for the future.  He or she must direct or head the team in developing organizational goals, plans, and strategies that flow out of a crisp purpose or vision statement." (213) 


Set times to think about the future.  Discover your organization's strengths and weaknesses.  Develop a fresh vision statement (a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization).  Set strategic goals.  Read about future trends.  Concentrate and eliminate.  (213-17)



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