Don’t Make These 3 Leadership Mistakes

leadership mistakes

In an earlier post entitled the Dark Side of Leadership I discussed the responsibility that comes with being a leader that might test the resolve of some individuals.  For example, terminating employees because the company is underperforming can be a stressful but necessary task that leaders are expected to do.  Although this may not be deemed unethical, there is still an element of discomfort that exists.  Today I want to shift the focus towards things that leaders do both intentionally and unintentionally that lead to poor decision making and occurrences of unethical behavior.

1) Leading autocratically:

Whenever you begin to believe you know it all, that is when you know absolutely nothing. Over time when those around you want to impress you, it can be easy to believe you are the end all be all.  What might happen is that you begin to depend less on your team for solutions and lead by making all the decisions.  This type of thinking can backfire as you lose the innovation that comes with having multiple perspectives to address challenges.  Also, to make matters worse, when you do not engage your employees or consider their ideas, they will allow you to bask in your ignorance.  You will truly know nothing when you try to direct everything, because your employees will no longer communicate important information to you from the trenches.

2) Not articulating codes of ethics:

Employees’ values differ based on differences in culture, beliefs, religion, even by industry.   Leaders cannot assume everyone in the organization is on same page ethically. You have to articulate what you and your organization value in order to see those values show up in your employees.  You must also scrutinize what behaviors are rewarded and how they are rewarded.  The behaviors that receive attention are the ones that will be repeated, ultimately determining how your employees behave and perform.  If you do not represent the values of your organization, then overtime it may be difficult to harness unethical behavior when it occurs.

3) Just being kind of “crazy”:

Recently, some researchers have found that some leaders may possess trait characteristics similar to psychopaths in the clinical sense.  A study found that found that 8 out of 200 high-level executives had scores that exceeded the psychopathic threshold used in the criminal justice system.  Individuals who fit this mold exhibit a higher degree of risk-taking, do not sense empathy like most other people, and use manipulation in the relationships they have. So if you think your boss is crazy, there is 4% chance you could be right.

LIKE and SHARE below if you approve this message.

Take the REAL ASESSMENT to gauge your career or entrepreneurial success!


The Dark Side of Leadership



Everybody wants to lead.  In American society, leadership is synonymous with power and influence. Most leadership authors frequently discuss ways to be a better leaders and the strategies always seem straightforward. Tactics identified usually speak to the higher nature of our personalities. “Be a positive example”; “Engage your employees”; “Happy employees make for happy customers”. However, there is a dearth of literature that looks at how difficult it is to be a manager or leader on an ordinary and daily basis. Below are 4 things that you need to be able to do in order to lead effectively that many leadership books do not talk about that may test not only your abilities, but also your ethical compass.

1 Keep secrets

Most leaders can attest that when you are in a position of authority you are privy to a lot of information. Some information is “classified”.  It can be very awkward  and difficult for some to be professional and cordial with others when you know things about their character. For example, you may be aware of employees who have a pending sexual harassment charge against them. As a manager, you also know who your poor performers are versus your superstars. You can’t slip up and leak certain information about employees or bad mouth them over a cocktail after work. You also can’t tell employees the company is planning to layoff folks until the predetermined time. But you and Jim started working there at the same time. Would you tell him? Can you keep a secret?

2 Tell the truth

I believe in the saying that the truth will set you free. You should always tell the truth even to your own detriment. If your company is going bankrupt, let your employees know. If Jim asks if he will be laid off, tell him. If you do not have the solution to a problem, that is okay. Do not pretend you have all the answers. And please do not make up answers like I have witnessed a few leaders do. That will lead to mistrust and it is very difficult to regain trust back.

3 Fire people

There is no space for employees who continually underperform. So, unfortunately you will have to terminate employees. I never understood how some people actually enjoy firing employees. I have found this to be one of the most difficult things about leading a team, unit, or organization. However, it must be done whether due to an employee’s poor performance or budget constraints.  But how you do it makes all the difference because your employees are observing your behavior. Are terminated employees treated with dignity as a human being or are they dismissed with impunity as if their contributions never mattered? Regardless of how you approach the situation, the bottom line is that when you fire someone or lay them off you may be essentially destroying their life. Their family, health, and well-being depends on their livelihood from work income and you have the power to take that away. Whether they deserve it or not, it actually sucks when you understand the consequences of what may happen to someone you have to fire.

4 Be humble

As a manager, some of your colleagues will treat you differently. They may bring you a gift for your birthday. You may find a souvenir in your mailbox from a country your colleague visited. As a result, some managers develop a god-like complex. They begin to believe that everything they say or do is the gospel. They begin to dismiss the ideas of those around them or make unreasonable requests. Do not fall into that trap. My best advice is to always ask for the opinions of others even when you think you know the right answer. I have found that my ideas are never the best, or at least they can always be adjusted by the ideas of others.  Like Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as saying, “The wise know too well their weakness to assume infallibility; and he who knows most knows best how little he knows.” And always give credit to someone else even if you think you deserve it (because you probably do not deserve it due to your power blinding you from reality). What is the worse that can happen if you give away the credit?  Your employees will trust and appreciate you, and you still will get the credit anyway.  That is because others will perceive you as being able to motivate strong and innovative performers. 

So… do you still wanna lead?

Follow me so you do not miss my blogs as I post them.


The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Power of Followership

Most books discuss leadership in a vacuum as if leaders can accomplish the things they do without help from others. When success is achieved the leader gets all the credit. But great leaders are sometimes created because of those who they lead.  Without good followers, leaders can never achieve success.  Let me explain using a well know fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.  If you remember, this story is about two con artists who tell a vain emperor they have the most exquisite fabric that only smart and powerful individuals can see. Actually, there is no fabric at all and the con artists only pretend to see the fabric as they present it to the emperor.  The emperor, not wanting to admit that he cannot see the fabric as it would indicate that he is not smart or powerful, falls for the con and asks for a suit to be made out of the fabric by the con artists.  In conclusion, the emperor parades the town in his new suit until a child yells out “the emperor has no clothes!”

This story makes a great case about leadership and its inability to have an impact if there are no good followers around to speak up and wake leaders to the truth. Out of all the emperor’s servants, friends, and townspeople it was a child who was not afraid to speak; an unapologetic, naïve, but very aware child. In some organizations, the culture becomes so homogenized by egomaniacal leadership that everyone thinks the same.  No one questions why things are done a certain way.  Sometimes a newly hired employee may enter the organization with some great ideas for innovation and change, but over time his or her ideas are overshadowed by the culture and they are brought into the fold.  Metaphorically speaking, employees, like children, who were once curious and honest, become cynical and expressionless.  More leaders need “children” like those surrounding the emperor in order hear the truth.

So why is followership just as important as leadership?  Because great followers make great leaders through their ability to think independently and express themselves. There is research that identifies 4 types of followers based on their ability to express themselves and critically think independently (Kelley, 1988).  These two characteristics are important for your subordinates to possess so that you can lead well.  They also are important to possess if you do not hold any formal authority in an organization, but want to be recognized as possessing leadership qualities.  The four types of followers can be describes as alienated followers, sheep, yes folks, and subordinate leaders.

  1. Sheep: We all recognize them when we see them. They lack independent thinking, and do not say much. They follow the status quo.  Contrary to what most think, acting like sheep is very bad for an organization.  A workforce made up of individuals who are afraid to express themselves and do not think for themselves will cause innovation and creativity to suffer.  Leaders who admonish others for not thinking as he or she does, or discourage risk taking will create a workforce where everyone will leave but the sheep will remain.
  2. Alienated followers: These employees think independently. However, if leaders do not value the feedback and input of their workforce, alienated followers will no longer express their opinions and ideas.  Why should they if the leader is always right?  Sometimes these are the best employees that eventually leave the organization and take their talent somewhere where it is valued.
  3. Yes folk: These followers are not afraid to express themselves, but they only express and regurgitate the ideas of their leader.  They do not think independently. This is fine when leadership is right.  But when leadership is wrong, and is not questioned, then the ramifications over time can be devastating to an organization.  To avoid this, effective leaders should ask followers to think about the pitfalls of ideas presented.  Otherwise, depending on the culture of the organization, bad ideas will always flourish because followers allow them to.
  4. Subordinate leaders: When you are a subordinate leader, the term follower is really misleading because you think independently and are not afraid to share your ideas, even when it goes against the status quo.  It takes real courage to be a subordinate leader because you may have to question the decision of your superiors for the greater good of the organization.  All effective leaders should want subordinate leadership in their organization.  However, ego can prevent leaders from realizing how it benefits their leadership abilities. I have found that most leaders feel threatened when an idea or solution that differs from their own is presented.  If you are a leader, embrace your subordinate leaders because they express themselves freely because they care about the organization. Do not take it personal.  Otherwise, they will leave the organization, and they may be your best employees.  If you are a subordinate leader, here are some tips to “manage up” so that your boss may listen:

a) Express ideas that are contrary to your boss in private. He or she will appreciate your respectfulness as well as your candor.

b) Be an expert in your field. That way you will possess what is known as expert power which can be more influential than legitimate authority or the power to reward or punish others. This influence can be effective in speaking with your boss and your peers.

c) Having expert power gives you the freedom to take your talents elsewhere if your boss simply does not “get it.”

d) Remember, you do not have all the answers. Be willing to listen to alternate perspectives and hear your boss out. Otherwise you become just as egomaniacal as your boss.

Be a leader.  But it is also okay to be a follower… so long as you are the right type.

Dr. Jason R. Lambert is an Assistant Professor of Management at Texas Woman’s University.  His research examines the impact of individual differences on early recruitment, selection, and performance.  His work has been presented at both regional and international conferences such as the Academy of Management and Southern Management Association, and has appeared in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion: An International Journal, and the Oxford Handbook of Diversity and Work. His professional career spans 10 years in managerial roles in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

He can be contacted at or through his website at

He also offers small business consultation through a partnership with In The Spirit Network at

How Race and Labor Economics Relates to Eric Garner

A few weeks ago former Mayor Giuliani claimed that Black-on Black crime is not addressed by Black leaders.  Not only is his statement not true, it is irrelevant.  Furthermore, the statistics describing intra-racial crime, 84% for Whites and 93% for Blacks, is not a huge difference. Intra-racial crime is expected to be high anyway because of the racially segregated society we live in. So why is America still racially segregated? Why are Black men shot by police officers disproportionately compared to white individuals? I believe that it involves the intersection of racism and basic labor economics.

Racial minorities may be defined as having traits that are highly visible, and those with more visible traits receive increased stereotyping and discrimination (Dworkin & Dworkin, 1999). Features between groups of individuals that are in sharp contrast strengthen the likelihood of both groups categorizing themselves in positive and negative ways.  Differential power, or unequal access to resources, further strengthens this effect leading to disparate treatment in every facet of the daily lives of people of color. The darker skin color of Black people is the most visible trait in contrast to all other racioethnic groups which leads to unique consequences for us in society.

The proof is in the data about how we are perceived. There are studies where viewers were shown images of a Black and White man scuffling with the former holding a knife.  A significant number of viewers, both white and Black, remembered the Black man holding the knife when asked although he was not.  There is also a vast amount of research that demonstrates the existence of disparities in hiring, wages, and treatment based on race.  Another study demonstrated that a White man with a felony has a greater likelihood to be hired than a Black man without one (Pager, 2003).  Other studies show that Black job seekers and students wishing to apply for graduate school are overlooked significantly compared to their white counterparts (see this link for a recent draft of the research paper   As a result, it is employment discrimination that causes a disproportionate percentage of Blacks to live in communities perceived as poorer than others. However, this is overlooked so that many equate poor, criminal, and uneducated with being Black. Overall, crime is related to socioeconomic status and not race as some try to portray.

Take Eric Garner for example.  I cannot speak for him, but as a Black man my experience informs me to believe that maybe he was allegedly selling loose cigarettes because no one would hire him for meaningful employment due to his race.  Eric Garner was not selling drugs.  He was not selling guns.  He was not pan handling for change.  Instead he was enterprising with the options he had available to him.  Such black market crimes are not monopolized by Black culture.  The first Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants in early American history also were enterprising and resourceful under the radar of the laws at that time because they also faced discrimination which limited their economic opportunities.  Unfortunately, Black people could not change their last name or bond with Americans under the artificially constructed “white” racial category  in order to mask our ethnicity and assimilate successfully.  As a result, while people from other ethnicities changed their circumstances, Black people could not due to discrimination based on our skin color.  This discrimination occurs until this day.

Eric Garner was someone who if given the chance would earn a living; but the harsh reality is that some people are afraid to hire a big Black man. The police are conditioned by media to be afraid of Black men.  That is why he was treated in that manner. I have been profiled many times myself, even while wearing a nice tailored suit.  We must eliminate discrimination in order to change the economic circumstances of people.  We must also change the way society and media criminalizes Black people so that we can prevent more senseless killings by police. Police training is not enough.  The mindset of everyone has to change. The next mainstream conversation has to be a candid one that is evidence-based including research because our naked eyes will miss it.  There are many individuals that refuse to believe that disparate treatment exists due to erroneous implicit biases that we hold. The following videos depict how suspects are treated nonviolently when they are not Black but armed:

This White Man Was Literally Beating Up Two Police Officers, But What Happens Next Is Astonishing

Now watch this video where there was no indictmentof the officers for killing Crawford who was planing to purchase a pellet rifle from Walmart.

And we have already seen the Eric Garner video tape where he clearly was unarmed and choked to death.

A discussion about the dismantling of a system based on race perpetuated by the media that permeates into the workplace is our only hope.  Until then, the cycle of discrimination to economic alienation to stereotyping and prejudicial violence against Black people will continue.

3 Tips For Managing the “Don’t worry… I got this” High Performing Team Member

number one man


You may not be able to tell now, but in my high school years (a few pounds and pants sizes ago) I belonged to a city champion swim team. We were very successful in part due to some great swimmers who had raw god- gifted talent. One guy was so good that he would rarely come to practice and still win his events easily. Because he was so good, in hindsight I believe that the coaches may have allowed him to miss practice for fear that he might quit the team if they addressed his frequent absences. We would sometimes confront him about it and he would say “Don’t worry…I got this.”

When we think about how to make teams work effectively it is easy to recognize and address the slacker or social loafer. But what about the nonconforming high performer? The star team member who is allowed to break the rules. They are a great asset. However, these individuals may also demoralize the team, and over time cause others to be less motivated as team members begin to sense inequity regarding how they are managed. The following three tips may help managers keep nonconforming high performers as an asset.

#1- Develop clear team norms and expectations. When teams are formed, members should discuss what guidelines for functioning they will follow including its consequences. Team members are less likely to break the rules when they played a role in creating them. Also, when nonconforming high performers understand upfront how they are expected to behave they may less likely break the rules. Also, consider using virtual teams, where members meet electronically, or ad hoc teams as members may experience less problems because they meet face-to-face less often. Additionally, the important norms followed by team members are based more on structure than interpersonal needs.

#2- Revise your rewards and incentives. Team rewards are very important because they build cohesion, synergy, and drive members towards the goals of the company. Although rewarding individuals is usually reserved for independent work, these types of rewards may be helpful for teams with nonconforming high performers when attached to peer evaluations measuring how well each member gets along with each other. How well someone follows the rules can be used as one of the factors to be evaluated to determine who is the MVP. This individual reward should evaluate more than just performance.

#3- Train them to be leaders. Some nonconforming high performers may follow the rules if placed in a leadership situation. They know they are great and may feel like they deserve to be treated as such. In this position they may also develop a better appreciation for the team norms and are more willing to follow them when they know there are serving as models for others. Keep in mind this can be risky and backfire, but placing nonconforming high performers in a leadership role is a way to take advantage of their talent rather than seeing it go to waste.

“Never let your ego outstrip your talent.” — Anonymous

3 Ways How Poor Managers Make Their Employees Useless


There is a saying that if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.  That can translate to mean that successful leaders understand that good decisions are made by drawing from the intellect surrounding them.  As the leader you do not have to always have the solution to every problem.  If that truly is the case then why do many manager choose to either misjudge or not capitalize from the valued resource of human capital surrounding them?  Here are three mistakes that poor managers say or do that underutilize their human resources:

1) “Do not approach me with problems unless you also have a solution.”

I hear this all the time from managers, and I made this mistake myself when I was a younger manager.  What managers do not realize is that this statement sets up barriers between themselves and the people who work for them.  First, all your employees may not be as “brilliant” as you to develop a solution.  Furthermore, research shows that the best solutions are derived from multiple perspectives, so bringing a problem to your attention adds an additional perspective to deal with the issue.  Second, over time your employees may stop bringing problems to your attention which is something you definitely do not want to happen.  It is better to know there is a problem and not have a solution for it, than to not even realize that a problem exists.  When challenges are brought to your attention, make those moment opportunities to address the issue utilizing the experiences of your employees.  Respond in a more non-threatening manner.  Ask the person bringing the problem to your attention, “What do you think we should do?” If they say they do not know, ask them to think about it and get back to you while you do some problem-solving on your own.  If it is time sensitive and you must solve the problem before they get back to you that is fine.  At least you made a learning moment out of it for your employee, and possibly their idea they bring to you later on may be useful in the future.

2) Overlook older workers and people with disabilities for training and advancement.

Guess what?  You can teach an old dog new tricks.  The idea that older workers are not as trainable as younger workers is a myth.  Actually, older workers are experience lower turnover than younger workers.  By 2030, people over 65 will comprise 20% of the population. As a result, older workers are increasingly retiring later and re-entering the work force after retirement because they are living longer. So in other words, all that expensive training you spent on some of your younger workers may walk out the door as they hop to their next job.  And you thought they were a better choice due to their age (which is illegal by the way).  People with disabilities are also stigmatized as those who cannot work, and their unemployment rate exceeds 50 percent.  However, many people with disabilities want to work.  While some employers believe they cannot accommodate their needs, most disabled workers need no accommodations or the cost of accommodations in most cases is less than $500. Disabled workers are also less likely to quit.  Lastly, limiting the labor pool from which to select employees for training or advancement is a mistake as it lessens your chance of picking the best employee for the position.

3) Speaking first while problem-solving with subordinates.

Even when you believe you have the right answer, it is wiser to let your employees speak up first.   It will allow them to develop themselves as critical thinkers and problem solvers.  You may also stifle creativity and influence your employees to not offer their perspectives by causing “groupthink” to occur where there is a breakdown in the decision making process.  When you offer your ideas first, it sets a tone for some that your opinion is the one that matters the most.  Some leaders can be admired to the point that “yes” men and women develop in their organization. Your employees may have better ideas than yours but may keep them to themselves because everyone wants to please you “the boss”.   Over time, innovation is lost because your staff may either want to always follow your lead or stop coming up with their own ideas all together.


Does Equal Opportunity Employment apply to the film industry?

The verdict is still not settled. Although this year a Black director (Steve McQueen) won an Oscar as a producer for best picture (12 Years A Slave), was nominated for best director, and Lupita Nyong’o won for best supporting actress, the outcome was as simple as Black and White… literally. Where are the Asian actors, screenwriters, costume designers, make-up artists, and directors? Where are the Latinos? People with disabilities? I know they exist, right? Not to mention that based on the very few Black actors that even do find meaningful performance work, when nominated for an Academy Award it feels like it is a mere symbol of tokenism.

Translated into the real world workplace, can you imagine hiring only white employees? Nowadays, companies that lack employee diversity trail behind in terms of creativity, talent acquisition, and marketing innovation.  Although it temporarily worked for Saturday Night Live, would the excuse, “we cannot find enough talented minority employees” sit well with the EEOC if it were corporate America? As I watched the Oscars, neither the audience members, the films, or the presenters portray the America I know. As a matter of fact, the latest casting data collected by the Screen Actors Guild in 2008 reported that approximately 72% of performers were White. Performers with disabilities were not counted at all. Although the 2012 U.S. census estimates report that Whites make up approximately 78% of the population, approximately only 56% of the share of movie tickets sold in 2012 was purchased by White moviegoers according to data reported by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Fortunately Hollywood is smart enough to leave behind the donning of “blackface”, but we still live in an era where on film a White actor can pop up in the middle of Japan as the last Shogun, or is the savior to an African slave. It is as if a story centering around characters-other-than-White cannot be told on film without a White character involved. Meanwhile, there are countless films where there seems to be not a single minority actor in sight; not even as an extra. I guess in the film industry, white skin constitutes as a bonafide occupational qualification.