Biggest Mistakes New Leaders Make

[June 8, 2018]  We all know that fulfilling leadership duties is difficult and the more senior we are the more difficult it is.  But new leaders are prone to make big mistakes that can be traced back to their newness and how they respond to challenges that confront them.

I am fortunate to belong to two organizations that are made up of retired U.S. military Flag officers.  Many are long-time friends who cooperate with me on this blog and were recently willing to answer a few of my questions about new leaders.  Their observations were surprising in many ways.

What I most gained on this topic from my conversations with them was a willingness to always help others; especially those struggling in leadership positions.  They understand that the way for any organization to be better, stronger, and more resilient, is to have leaders who help other leaders grow.

Here are the 20 most frequent mistakes that senior Flag officers told me they saw in new leaders (in no particular order):

  1. Trying to do too much in too little time
  2. Failure to understand the leadership style of your predecessor
  3. Failure to be ready to make decisions on day one
  4. Understanding where the major risks are located
  5. Failure to pay homage to the past
  6. Aggressively trying to prove you are a good leader
  7. Dodging culpability by blaming outside factors beyond the leaders control
  8. Having a murky view of the future
  9. Unwillingness to communicate about the future
  10. Trying to do everything or improperly delegating
  11. Ignoring organizational culture
  12. Focusing too narrowly on the details
  13. Believing you’re too smart to learn from others
  14. Over-emphasizing strategy over daily tactics and vice versa
  15. Forgetting to train, motivate, and reward
  16. Failure to remember that it’s about the team and not the leader
  17. Refusal to quickly adapt to changes
  18. Too reactive instead of proactive
  19. Don’t take care of themselves
  20. Are too friendly and try hard to get people to like them


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

27 thoughts on “Biggest Mistakes New Leaders Make

  1. Eric Coda

    Drew (and others), I agree with what is written by all readers of Brig Gen Satterfield’s leadership blog. Remember that it is the unwritten duty of leaders to produce more AND BETTER leaders.

  2. Drew Dill

    Good mentorship means also to teach young folks about the mistakes of others. Great list of 20.

  3. Jung Hoon Kim

    The journey to sage is paved with mistakes.

  4. José Luis Rodriguez

    I wish someone who was close to me had sat me down to learn about these. Thank you Gen Satterfield.

  5. Joe Omerrod

    I was most intrigued by #2 on our list; “Failure to understand the leadership style of your predecessor.” Some may not understand what it means to be careful about changing the organizational culture (or team culture) too quickly. One must be careful that an abrupt change can have unintended and bad consequences for the organization (team) and those who are part of it.

    1. Greg Heyman

      I too found this one and initially didn’t understand. Now I have a better idea of what it means and that makes perfect sense. Thanks Joe.

    2. Martin Shiell

      Joe, you beat me to the punch on this one. Yes, all leaders should be keenly aware of what came before them; to include an organization’s history.

  6. Yusaf from Texas

    To make mistakes is human. Someone once said that and it is true. But why look stupid if you can avoid it and learn from others. Here you’ve made a great list of those things that people do which could have been avoided. Thanks Gen Satterfield.

  7. Billy Kenningston

    Thanks for the good article. 😉

  8. Shawn C. Stolarz

    I got a good laugh out of your list. I think that I probably made all these mistakes and several I repeatedly made them. Maybe I was a slow learner. Regardless, after having them beat into my head, I finally got what being a leader is all about.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Same here. I think most of us are old enough to remember the “school of hard knocks” and that the school is not the best way to learn leadership. What I like is that this blog lays out the key things leaders must remember.

      1. Wilson Cox

        We certainly don’t want to overdo the school of hard knocks nor knock it for its method of teaching. Learning the hard way makes us never forget a particular mistake.

    2. Andrew Dooley

      Good comment Shawn. Spot on with your analysis.

  9. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Next week, I’ll be including this list in my classroom. Thanks for the valuable list.

  10. Scotty Bush

    Good topic and a great list of 20 ways to make mistakes.

  11. Army Captain

    We all learn the hard way but it is much better to learn from other people’s mistakes.

  12. Jerome Smith

    Wow, wish I had this list when I was younger and someone to talk to me about them.

Comments are closed.