The Biggest Leadership Mistakes: The Kangaroo Returns | Part II

May 05, 2024

More leadership mistakes from the world of the kangaroo

The first installment of our “Management by Kangaroo” series already zoomed in on some of the most frequently seen leadership mistakes. Among them, management by Robinson, management by graveyard groundskeeper, and management by T.E.A.M., to name just three examples of bad leadership sometimes demonstrated by managers. If, after reading that installment, you thought you’d seen it all when it comes to executive vanity, think again.

In this second part, WU Executive Academy Dean Barbara Stöttinger takes another (humorous) stab at some quite common examples of bad leadership and offers (actual) advice on how to further develop your leadership skills.

What leadership mistakes can you make as a manager? | WU Executive Academy
What leadership mistakes can you make as a manager? Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

1. Leadership Mistake: Management by Glitter

All that glitters is not gold. Many people climb of the career ladder. Some of them stick out not only for being creative, smart, and ready to take risks, but also for their special knack for grasping complex interdependencies that remain a sealed book to your average Joe and Jane. And this special knack is often rewarded with a pot of gold, figuratively speaking. Unfortunately, there is a less shiny side to the coin as well, aka an example of bad leadership. Their success prompts geniuses to toil even harder, take on even greater risks, etc. When this process runs its course, everything looks just fine in the beginning. At some point, however, people are pulled into a downward spiral they can’t find their way out of. At this point, numerous investors have already come aboard who, blinded by the initial success, keep injecting fresh money into the company.

The leadership mistakes you should avoid! | WU Executive Academy
All that glitters is not gold, and not everything is a diamond just because it sparkles – it is a sign of bad leadership if you do not know when to say enough is enough. Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: Knowing When Enough is Actually Enough

The question we need to ask ourselves is: how can I avoid being blinded by my own success and recognize when I get caught in a downward spiral? Therefore, managers should ask themselves the following three questions:

  1. Do I question my actions, and do I listen to people close to me?
  2. Am I honest when it comes to my own failures, and do I use them as learning opportunities?
  3. Do I manage to sacrifice a win for the benefit of improved structures, organic growth, or more effective control?

If you can honestly answer all three questions, you are likely not at risk of this leadership mistake.

Leadership-Tip: If you meet such a golden boy or girl, you should remember that all that shines warrants a closer inspection. Trust your guts and reliable data.

2. Leadership Mistake: Management by Connections

Connections are good, taking control is even better. It’s not a bad approach per se: “The best man or woman gets the job.” Unfortunately, that’s often not what happens, regardless of whether we are talking about politics, the economy, or sports clubs. There’s nothing wrong with suggesting talented people from your network for a job. In fact, it’s a smart recruiting strategy to draw on your connections. Unless, of course, you propose to a person who you know to be unfit for the job out of “gratitude,” due to a warped sense of loyalty, or because you would personally benefit from them getting the job. This would be an example of bad leadership, as it would definitely not be in the company’s best interest.

No more leadership mistakes! With our tips | WU Executive Academy
Always recruit from your own ranks? Returning a favor? May backfire. Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: Using Your Connections is Fine, But Not at All Costs

Recruiting people from your own network comes with many advantages. Often, you will already know not only their strong suits, competences, and qualities but also what’s not so great about them, which significantly reduces the risk of hiring the wrong woman or man. What’s more, it’s easier to trust a person who already has some ties to your company, as loyalty and team spirit will naturally follow.

Leadership-Tip: Regarding job recommendations tied to the principle of “you scratch my back and I scratch yours,” it’s definitely better to delay returning a favor than to have the worst man or woman on the job.

3. Leadership Mistake: Management by Bonsai

Snip off every single one of your team’s initiatives. Leaders who make this leadership mistake are a lot like people who laugh at their own jokes the most. They think they know the best jokes (duh!) and would never laugh if someone else manages to get one in. Because to them, the #1 rule is: I am the world’s funniest guy or gal. Some managers are like that, too. They consciously snub ideas or initiatives brought forward by team members, are not interested in other people’s opinions, and don’t appreciate their work. Because they are afraid that doing so would make their own contributions look smaller. And they especially keep people down who outperform them in a specific field because they regard them as a threat to their own power and career.

The top 8 leadership mistakes | WU Executive Academy
Cutting initiatives, keeping your own employees small in order to stay in the spotlight? That's one of the leadership mistakes: management by bonsai. Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: Lower Your Ego and Let Others Shine

Leaders engaging in management by bonsai really aren’t doing themselves any favors. In fact, this is bad leadership. Not only does the overall output improves when there is a lot of exchange within the team, the individual members are also more motivated and loyal when they get credit for their contributions. What’s more, a team’s achievements are also a reflection of their team leader, who, after all, prepared the field on which their successful ideas grow. As you can see, managers should empower, not cut back.

4. Leadership Mistake: Management by Think Tank

When in doubt, set up a working group. We’ve all been there. Four hellish hours in a conference room during which everyone talked about everything while essentially saying nothing. Everybody was heard (whether they had something to say or not). A new aspect popped up every other minute, but in the end, no decision was made. Your boss’s conclusion? “We’ll need another working group to discuss this again, in more detail.” Things like this happen for a reason. Often, it’s the leaders who are perfectionists, obsessed with details, and risk-averse. Frequently, they struggle to make decisions in general. They would ask everybody they can get a hold of about their opinion, only to end up right where they started, with no opinion of their own. Others are paralyzed with fear of making unpopular decisions. Both behavioral patterns are part of common leadership mistakes.

The most common leadership mistakes | WU Executive Academy
Long, discouraging meeting with no outcome? The next meeting will solve everything! Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: the Right Balance Between Reflecting and Deciding

There’s truth in what people say: only fools rush in. Carefully considering things, sleeping over something, and asking colleagues whose input you appreciate for their opinion or advice. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But there comes a time when you need to leave this leadership mistake behind, make a decision, and get going.

Leadership-Tip: In everyday business, it can make sense to define guidelines for what to do when things get stuck to avoid circling back to the same point in a meeting over and over again.

5. Leadership Mistake: Management by PU foam

Identify a gap and squat in it, never to leave again. If you have ever installed a window or watched somebody else do so, you know that polyurethane (PU) foam can do it all. It can be used to seal window and door frames, as well as for insulation purposes of all kinds. It can be filled into any joint, where it expands and hardens after a short while. Interestingly, these are also properties observed in bad leadership. Charming and cooperative at first, some leaders come across as collaboration-minded team players. First doubts arise when they turn into lone warriors eager to put a spotlight on their lonesome achievements. Their skilled ruthlessness makes them the nemesis of every team player. All they care about is defending their own position, for which they will not shy away from torpedoing other people’s projects, all while staying within their own comfort zone.

You shouldn't make these leadership mistakes! | WU Executive Academy
Management by PU foam - initially flexible, later tough, and unforgiving. Make this leadership mistake and quickly lose the team's approval. Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: Focusing on Actual New Leadership

Many companies focus on hard skills such as subject-specific competences, management experience, and industry knowledge when they appoint senior staff. In this process, they often disregard two aspects that are just as important. A fit regarding corporate culture as well as the manager’s personal values, visions, and growth mindset. The latter is a crucial component of a management style dubbed new leadership. Actual new leaders are not only concerned about their own success and that of the company but also strive to help the people around them grow, enabling them to realize their potential.

Leadership-Tip: It’s about a shared development and success as much as about keeping an eye on the triple bottom line: people, planet, and, naturally, profits. That’s how you avoid common leadership mistakes.

6. Leadership Mistake: Management by Instagram

Count moments, not things (and present them in the best light).Social media channels such as Instagram are a godsend. Everybody is happy, successful and popular. But beware (or, better, yet relax): this has nothing to do with reality. Very often, managers are preoccupied more with how they come across than with what they actually contribute. They aim to create the perfect impression to the outside world, pretending they have never experienced setbacks, they don’t make mistakes, and there ain’t no challenges too big for them. While such managers probably don’t have ill intentions, they just fail to focus on what matters. Of course, they care about business figures, how their team is doing, etc. But their image still remains the most important thing to them. In this ambition, they don’t give a hoot about how close this image is to reality.

These leadership mistakes often happen in the boardroom | WU Executive Academy
A perfect world communicated to the outside world, chaos all around. Instagram mentality among managers is a clear leadership mistake. Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: Purpose, Purpose, Purpose

Some management and leadership experts belittle purpose and values as mere buzzwords used by (self-proclaimed) experts in their BS bingo. But they are actually the heart and the soul of a company. They shape its identity and culture, set a business apart from its competitors, make for staff retention, and enable all stakeholders to trust and believe in the company. Purpose-oriented leaders should thus make decisions that are aligned with their company’s objectives, and simultaneously ensure that all activities are geared towards reaching these goals.

Leadership-Tip: Strive to create a sense of purpose and significance linked to the work everybody is doing, and show how individual contributions help reach the overall goals. The result is a motivating work environment – with (hopefully) no bad leadership.

7. Leadership Mistake: Management by ChatGPT

Let’s stop thinking for ourselves and leave it to AI. Technology will save us, right? AI can write speeches and drafts, develop detailed business plans, individually prepare performance reviews, and even has tips on how to be a better manager. Sounds too good to be true?

That’s because it is. Have you actually looked at some of the things AI has produced?

Leadership mistakes? This is how good management works! | WU Executive Academy
Relaxing in your executive chair while the AI takes care of everything in the background? Proper leadership depends on interpersonal relationships. Image created, entirely according to Management by ChatGPT, in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: Actual Leaders Remain Irreplaceable

AI is like basically any other new technological achievement. It must be used where it actually makes sense and in a way that serves people, not the other way around. There is a lot of potential for putting AI to good use in areas requiring standardization and optimization. Machines have a structured approach to tasks, but they fall short where creative ideas, innovative thinking, novel approaches, and human communication are required. For any task that requires good rapport, trust, and appreciation, machines will never be able to replace people.

8. Leadership Mistake: Management by KPI

All that matters are figures, data, and facts. The increasing digitalization of our age makes it all too tempting for managers to view their company as nothing but figures and data that work according to rules that can be analyzed. In this mindset, staff members are resources whose contributions can be measured using performance indicators. What’s lost in this leadership mistake is the understanding that an employee’s contribution to the company’s success can not only be measured in ways related to billable hours. People contribute creativity, ideas, and their social skills. Putting too much emphasis on figures and data lowers staff motivation because team members do not feel appreciated. This example of bad leadership can also trigger resistance to change as employees do not feel seen and taken seriously, which makes them less willing to get used to new strategies.

With this leadership mistake, employees miss out | WU Executive Academy
The main thing is to get the right numbers. Bad leadership ignores the fact that employees are neglected in the process. Image created in ChatGPT with DALL E

Leadership-Learning: It’s All About the People

To avoid this problem, it’s important for managers to look at the best of two worlds, i.e., quantitative as well as qualitative (human) aspects. This means using figures, data, and facts as the foundation for making (strategic) decisions, without losing sight of all team members’ needs as well as the overall corporate culture.

Find out more about the biggest leadership mistakes and how to avoid them in our first part: Management by Kangaroo.


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