Five Mistakes Leaders Make With Their Teams and How to Avoid Them

When a leader makes these five mistakes, it takes more time and effort to get things back on track.

by Glenn Reynolds

Everybody makes mistakes, but a leader’s mistakes are in the open for everyone to see and talk about. They affect the organization, not just the leader. Some mistakes are innocuous and easily remedied, while other mistakes take time to recover from and cost more in mission drift, financial reversal, and personnel loss.

So, what are the top five mistakes leaders make when dealing with paid and volunteer staffs, and how can leaders avoid them?

Mistake #1: The My-Way-or-the-Highway Attitude

Go to any playground and you will see kids battling to be on top. We learn to play king of the hill at a young age. When that translates to ministry, it reveals itself as a top-down leadership style about command and control. This is the opposite of empowerment. “Because I said so” works with a 5-year-old, but does not carry much weight with a volunteer or staff member.

Redemptive leadership rejects the top-down attitude in favor of releasing others to fulfill their potential. This is not sending edicts down from the throne. It is about releasing and empowering others in the organization to succeed.

Two famous signs have sat on the Oval Office desk — one from Harry Truman and one from Ronald Reagan. Truman’s plaque said, “The Buck Stops Here.” Reagan’s said, “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

There has to be a leader and the buck does stop with him, but he cannot have the top-down mentality that takes all the credit and issues edicts ex cathedra. A combination of both philosophies results in great team leadership.

Mistake #2: Putting Paperwork Before Peoplework

As a leader, do you view people as opportunities or as interruptions? Successful leaders have developed great people skills. They have learned to manage the tension between projects and people.

And, this tension is due to the people paradox. Simply put, the greater the leadership role, the less time you have for people. However, the greater the leadership role, the more you need people.

Successful leaders know how to work with people, and their people skills keep them effective. The higher we travel in leadership, the more our success hinges on spending time with key staff members in the art of peoplework.

Why? Because transformation happens through association. We cannot change people if we do not spend time with them. People who do not change their minds cannot change anything. It takes face time with people to see that transformation.

Mistake #3: The Absence of Affirmation

What could be better than a pay raise? People like salary increases, but they also need a pat on the back for a job well done. And, when you are leading volunteers, a pay raise is not a possibility.

Effective leaders realize that affirmation and encouragement motivate most people more than financial reward. A huge leadership mistake is to neglect this emotional support for those who follow us. This can become the source of high turnover in many organizations and companies. After all, discouragement is the occupational hazard of ministry.

Remember two affirmation adages.

First, everyone thrives on affirmation. Everyone likes an honest compliment. In my first full-time ministry position at one of our Assemblies of God schools, I received a card from the president when my department made a noteworthy contribution to the school’s mission. I kept it in my desk to look at when things got a little tough. I try to send out cards every week to employees and volunteers to remind them that I notice their good work.

Second, we underestimate the power of affirmation. Who can you encourage in your organization today? Is there someone who could use a gift card for a job well done? How about taking someone to lunch to tell her how much you appreciate her? Do you celebrate teams and team members that bring success to the mission, or do you just move on to the next task?

Mistake #4: Showing Mavericks the Door

Ministries have life cycles just like we do — birth through death. Think of Bill Gates and Microsoft. Gates — a maverick and a college dropout — started the organization and changed the world through the personal computer. Entrepreneurs would now consider the organization to be big, bloated, and institutionalized. It is certainly not as nimble as a startup. This is part of the organizational life cycle — and it is dangerous.

Revolutionaries often do not know what to do when they win the revolution, so they become ensconced in a new bureaucracy to replace the one they transformed. This happens to most organizations as they grow.

Organizations put mavericks in their place with statements like these:

  • That is impossible.
  • We do not do it that way here.
  • We tried something like that before and it did not work.
  • I wish it were that easy.
  • We have a policy about that.
  • When you have been around a little longer, you will understand.
  • Who gave you permission to change the rules?
  • How dare you suggest we are doing it wrong.
  • If you had been in this field as long as I have, you would understand that what you are suggesting is absurd.
  • That is too much change for us.

To be sure, a leader cannot tolerate rebels, but he cannot push mavericks out the door, either. Jesus was a maverick, and the religious leaders did not make room for Him.

Remember, mavericks can save us from becoming a monument to the past, so it is important to learn to recognize a true maverick from a rebel. Legitimate mavericks care not just for their ideas but the goals of the organization. They work for more than themselves; they work for the mission of the ministry. They make a difference in their present position, instead of just talking about what they would do if they were in charge. Finally, they are willing to earn the right to be heard as they influence others and produce good results.

Mistake #5: Practicing Dirty Delegation

D.L. Moody said, “I’d rather get 10 men to do the job than do the job of 10 men.” If that is true, why don’t leaders delegate? Often, it is the fear of losing authority — the fear that someone else will take charge of the project. Other times, it’s the fear of the work being done poorly. My rule of thumb is this: If someone can do the work at least 80 percent as well as you, then delegate it. The reverse can also be true. We can fear someone doing the work better than us. That insecurity can keep us from delegating. There are many other reasons: unwillingness to take the necessary time, fear of depending on others, lack of leadership training and positive delegation experience, and fear of losing value in the organization.

As you delegate to your team, they are asking the same four questions:

  1. What am I supposed to do? (assignment)
  2. Will you let me do it? (authority)
  3. Will you help me when I need it? (accountability)
  4. Will you let me know how I’m doing? (affirmation)

Leaders can make a lot of little-to-moderate mistakes — letting the budget get off a percentage point or two, making a verbal faux pas in a sermon, or letting board meetings run too long. But when a leader makes these five mistakes, it takes more time and effort to get things back on track. On the flipside, a leader who can empower others, develop people skills, learn to affirm, make room for mavericks, and practice delegating instead of dumping will be well on the way to being a positive and redemptive leader.