3 Simple Errors That Leaders Need To Stop Making Right Now

June 4, 2019 Chris Pearse

965 views Dec 10, 2018, 04:53am

Chris Pearse Contributor I write about the realities and challenges of leadership.


The three errors under the spotlight are all closely related, and also symptomatic of the same malaise that is all too common in organisations. Although they can manifest at any level of responsibility, inevitably, they can be traced back to the leadership itself. Here they are:

1. Driving Performance, Profit And People

The problem here is the use of the word Drive. It means to compel or urge to move. It implies a lack of willingness on the part of whatever is being driven to move of its own accord – an inertia or stasis.

As soon as you associate the word drive with anything, you label what is being driven as incapable of having either the physical or mental resources to drive itself. Cars, of course have the power to move but not the intelligence to harness that power safely and efficiently (yet) – so they need driving. Slaves could not be trusted to do what was in the interests of their owners (no surprise there) so a slave-driver was used to improve their performance.

The word drive suggests a resource that is naturally static, incapable of self-determination and fundamentally untrustworthy. Something that will behave in a chaotic, unpredictable and damaging way if left to its own devices.

So having exposed the associations behind the verb to drive, let’s consider its use in a leadership context:

Firstly, applying it to abstractions such as performance and profit makes no sense whatsoever. Both of these are outcomes of activity and can only be influenced indirectly, never directly.

Trying to drive profit (presumably upwards) is like adjusting the TV to change the plot of a film.

But even more crass is its use with people. Driving employees and staff is to reduce them to little more than drones – incapable of autonomy, responsibility… perhaps even humanity.

The upshot of a driven culture can only be the reverse of what is intended, as the driving power becomes evermore centralised and limited.

Maybe Miller in Repo Man was right when he said, “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.”

2. Delegating Activity Without Responsibility

This syndrome is both insidious and endemic. Leaders devolve activities but maintain a level of interest that quickly becomes interference when anything unexpected or undesirable occurs.

Los Angeles premiere of "Minions"

Los Angeles premiere of “Minions” RICHARD SHOTWELL/INVISION/AP

Micromanagement is a good example in which the delegate is reduced to a minion – a servile lackey – with no discretion, no independence – no responsibility.

The behaviour – on the part of the leader – is fear-based. They have little faith in the ability of their employee to complete the task successfully. Yet they do not have the time, or perhaps the skills, to do it themselves. So they devolve activity and retain responsibility. This is not leadership.

Delegation means to send away as a representative.Distance is implicit. So is autonomy.

When General Patton said:

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

he was referring to the upside of delegation which is empowering, productive and creates more leaders, not fewer.

3. Using “I” Not “We”

Using the first person in a leadership capacity can often betray identification with the power and profile of the position, instead of the responsibilities and service that it entails.

In his HBR article, David Burkus states:

While switching from singular “I” to the plural “we” may not make you a king or win you a premiership, it might help shift your perspective from self-focused to others-focused, make you more aware of the needs of others and, as you work to meet those needs, might just make you a better leader.

Some leaders hang on to their I status, creating a facade of omnipotence. Regrettably they also deny the collective power and creativity of the organisation and attempt to appropriate it for themselves.

In doing so they will inevitably commit errors 1. and 2. and eventually surround themselves with those that are incapable of initiative, creating an unscalable organisation.

These leaders commit the cardinal sin of letting their egos usurp the power of their teams, throttling human potential in the process.

I help leaders accelerate their development and impact through a deepened awareness of our inner dynamics – the belief systems and emotions that shape our leadership. Discover more here…

Chris Pearse

Chris Pearse Contributor

I am an Executive Coach to leaders across diverse sectors including FTSE100s and SMEs. I am also an Interim CEO.