Six common and major mistakes that leaders do

Leaders are also human. Many of them have risen up to their present levels only because their contributions have been recognized by Managements. Yet, they do have some weaknesses and these then get converted into major mistakes. We will discuss six of such common and major mistakes of leaders, in some detail in this article.


The CEO of one of the biggest Strategic Business Units( SBU) of a leading auto component company was a fabulous leader. He did promote a strong second line and believed in getting things done. He would never interfere in day-to-day decisions and would only look at the end results. He often appreciated good work done by even contract workmen. He was such a tall leader, as he always looked fifteen years into the future and had all boxes ticked in any crisis situation. Yet, he had a rather worrisome weak side: he would grant favors to those who would take care of his personal needs. He promoted his own assistant as a Manager, even when he did just glorified clerical work and just that bit of co-ordination. It just happened that this assistant would take care of all his personal needs. Similarly, the company's Medical Officer went all out of the way to take personal care of his ( that is the CEO) wife when she was admitted to a good hospital nearby. Within six months, the Medical Officer was promoted to the next higher level from the Manager's cadre in which he was already placed.

In organization after organization, such common and major mistakes are often done by leaders. In the aforesaid case, the leader was such a towering personality that the leadership at the Corporate Office at Chennai would listen only to him. No questions would be asked about any decision of the CEO, at any point in time.

Be that as it may, the six common and major mistakes are a) Playing favorites and encouraging Yes-men or Yes-women b) "He is similar to me" halo effect c) Getting the NIGYSOB approach to work d) Giving out of turn promotions e) Encouraging gossip and rumors and f) Blindly believing favorites and neglecting performers.

Playing favorites and encouraging Yes-men or Yes-women

This Indian multinational has built many of the country's best roads. It has a big association with metro projects in most cities. It was lead by one charismatic leader for decades. Yet, several who were in leadership positions under his nose had this weakness of playing favorites and encouraging dozens of "yes-men" and even "yes-women". Such parasitic employees do often get favors done by merely praising the leader, even at times when the work could have been a good example of teamwork. Those who do not fall in line are normally punished and pushed to the sidelines. This happens as a routine in township companies manufacturing cement, paper and so on, where the CEOs can do whatever they want. As long as the bottom-lines are healthy, the owner-managers are happy and that is the end of the story. However, such mistakes have a big bearing on morale and motivation.

"He is similar to me" halo effect

There are still some units where the HR philosophy is based on the age-old "imposing discipline" approach and perfecting the legal remedies that justify such an approach. It is commonly observed that such HR heads, often with a legal background, do not budge an inch and often search for subordinates who fall in line with their "he is similar to me" thinking. This has disastrous consequences for those who would believe in adopting the more progressive approaches to involving and motivating employees. This is known to be a major mistake in many cases. Worse, the leaders only go on justifying what they do.

Getting the NIGYSOB approach to work

In advanced sensitivity training laboratories, with a pronounced slant towards advanced behavioral sciences research and practice, the trainers would often talk about an approach called "NIGYSOB" an acronym for Now-I-Got-You-Son-of-A Bitch". This is an extension of the previous mistake. Those who defy the leader are often enemies of the leader and the latter would wait for an opportunity to even trap the subordinate into doing a major mistake. This even happens in schools. The Principal would be waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon one such subordinate who would not be in his good books. He would wait for the opportunity and get that done, often with the help of another pliable subordinate who would play ball.

For instance, the teacher would reprimand a troublesome child and lose his temper just one. He would have slapped the child. The parents would come calling. The Principal would reprimand the teacher in the presence of the parents and even force the teacher to apologize. This is exactly what happened in a private school. Within the next ten days, the teacher submitted his resignation. The teacher did not have the best of economic means and took leave only for the four days he had in his account. The rest of the notice period was one of the biggest humiliations. Yet, the teacher bore it all and then joined as the Principal of a school with the State Board syllabus.

Most leaders who have this NIGYSOB weakness, are experts at executing it with the precision of a qualified surgeon. And the rest -- morale and motivation of all other subordinates -- suffers to a good extent in the bargain. Most of them grin and bear it, as the job is their bread and butter.

Giving out of turn promotions

Though done rarely, this mistake does have other implications. It does promote the "why not me?" question in the minds of other talented subordinates and the rumor mills start working overtime. There is a big discussion on what happened. What did the leader say or even speak a little about what happened? Managers try to engage the assistants of the leader to get some clues and this merry-go-round goes on happening.

When the out-of-turn promotion happens in the case of a proven leader ( that is one who is seen as a potential leader with good potential) that does not create any problem. However, if there is more than one person with similar credentials and contributions, it is always better to wait for the appropriate time and promote the person. Additional recognition should come from the wide range of new responsibilities and appropriate communication of all such responsibilities to all employees. This can become a major mistake if the particular person is seen as one who does not deserve such a promotion in the first place.

Encouraging gossip and rumors

There are many high-performance leaders. They would have done some innovation in the manufacturing plants and that would have reduced cost and rejection of the end product. They would have saved substantially on energy costs. Such performances are common.

Yet, the same leaders do have a big taste for gossip and rumors. They would lend their ears to anyone who can carry such gossip. Worse, such gossip would be about the after-work behavior of subordinates and would go deep into the personal affairs of such people. This can and does become a big cause for worry. The leader should not do this mistake. Yet, none would dare to even talk about it. The game goes on and on. Those who think that they can win the support of the leader through such gossip, often add a lot of masala to any story that basically sings peans of praise about the leader. There would not be an iota of truth in it. But the rumor goes on circulating for days on end. This is one major mistake that the leader should avoid.

Blindly believing favorites and neglecting performers

This is possibly the worst mistake. When a particular data about anything that is official is presented by the favorites of the leader is presented, the leader tends to believe it more than the data presented by the high performers. This often happens about some good suggestion that emanates from the shop floor. Such a dangerous situation can happen when the yes-men are able to convince the leader that what they had presented is nothing but the gospel truth. The leader becomes a victim of his own circumstances.


In almost each one of the mistakes that leaders make, there is a setback in terms of reduced morale and motivation. Those who have merit in them often quit the organization. Their exit interview does not even reflect on the mistakes as they do not even speak out. The leader keeps on doing the mistakes outlined above. However, the bottom line is very important for any organization and the mistakes are often overlooked. However, once a seasoned and senior HR professional HR assumes a leadership position and is empowered to initiate substantial change, the particular leader might change his behavior. There are such instances of this happening in India as well.


Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao24 Apr 2020 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

A good article by the author and he explained the major mistakes that are being done by many CEOs in the corporate sector. My experience in the field also confirms the same. Some leaders spoil the entire game by encouraging yes masters. If any official tries to put his mind and tell the bad effects that may result if their decisions are implemented, the CEO will try to punish him and see that he will never open his mouth. At the same time, the employees who will say yes to whatever he says will be in the good books of the leader. They will be encouraged. But ultimately the organisation suffers and once the loss is seen, they will try to attribute that loss due to some non-existing reason and survive.

There are some leaders who still go with labour practices of yesteryears and never bring in the HR concept. They see no difference between a machine and a man. They think no person can put a step more or less than what he has instructed.

Author: ABSivakumar25 Apr 2020 Member Level: Gold   Points : 6

Rao Sir, this is the problem number one. Even the smartest leaders have this weakness. They want someone to always tell them that they are right.

And if it is a remote location, as in companies manufacturing cement or sugar, the CEOs think that they are demi-Gods. Their word is the law. This has serious consequences for the merit-oriented subordinates. They feel helpless. They quickly resign. They are often in a total minority in many organization's.

Why does HR not thrive in such environments? The basic foundation of HR is that people will be systematically developed. But when chamchas have too much power, everything goes for a six. The morale and motivation of people will be badly affected. This is exactly what happens in every situation.

Similarly, the powerful owner-managers also have their own yes men and they are often common to that of the CEO as well. Hence, they get to hear what they want to hear. The truth is buried forever. Nothing can be done. The HR Manager will look like a fool doing nothing.

I have seen it all. I have also seen the exact opposite of excellent HR oriented organizations like Asian Paints and the Aditya Birla group. These are exceptions, though. The game of pleasing somebody never happens in such organization's.

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