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Common first time leader mistake – thinking you can control your staff

first time leaderI recently conducted several leadership development programs for young leaders; not “young” necessarily in age, but young in terms of tenure in formal leadership roles. We got in an extended conversation about the common mistakes that new leaders make; ironically, all mistakes that are frequent enough to be well-known but only if new leaders knew any better! So in an attempt to right that wrong, in today’s blog post and continuing for the next two weeks, I thought I’d share four of the most widespread first time leader mistakes. Today’s first time leader trap – thinking that you can control your staff.

This is a common fallacy for the first time leader!

Let me make one thing clear, right now, up front. You can’t control anybody! Perhaps your children, but only when they were young. As adults, you can’t control anybody. How do I know this? Because there are hundreds of thousands of people out there in the universe that spent their entire first marriage trying to control another person, and of course, that didn’t work too well! 🙂 Seriously, all you have is the ability to create an environment where people can choose to behave in a certain way, but you cannot control another person.

In the working environment that you establish, people can choose to act in whatever way they wish, or to change existing behaviour, but ultimately actions and behaviours are choices made by individuals. And this is key point – because it switches your focus as a leader. Instead of trying to change your staff’s behaviour or actions, your focus should be to build a workplace environment in which your employees will act and behave in the ways you want. It may seem like I am splitting hairs, but not really. Your leadership efforts should be centered on creating a positive and productive working environment in which almost all your employees will make positive and productive choices, rather than on trying to influence or even manipulate them as individuals.

“Almost all”, not “all”

You may have noticed that I said “almost all”. Because unfortunately, there will always be a small fraction of your employees who will choose NOT to perform at an expected level, no matter how positive or productive a working environment you establish. And when that happens, you will handle that individual as a performance issue (which is the subject of a future blog post; fortunately, this type of employee is usually a small fraction of your total staff).

So, if you’re a first time leader, understand that you CANNOT control your staff. But you can focus on building a positive and productive working environment in which your employees will make choices that were what you hoped and intended.

I’ve got three more common first time leader traps coming up in the next few blog posts, but in the meantime, curious to know what you think of this one. Veteran leaders, have you seen (or have you seen other leaders) fall into this common trap? What is your advice to help others avoid this frequent blunder? “Young” leaders, what have been your experiences. Please share below.


    • Thanks Sheri, glad you found it useful. Don’t forget to take a look at the next three blog posts on this same topic, and please, add your advice to the dialogue as well!


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