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Every day, I am approached by people seeking to understand the things leaders should be doing to become better and smarter leaders.

Most leadership articles tend to follow the same pattern, outlining all the do’s – the habits, the behaviors and the actions – that are followed by great leaders everywhere.

Today, I wanted to share my thoughts on the other side of the same coin.

Although understanding what to do helps leaders (and aspiring leaders) perform well in their position, it’s knowing what not to do that can be the ultimate shortcut on the path to success.

It hardly comes as a surprise that every leader makes mistakes – and not just at the beginning of their tenure.

Some mistakes are commonly made, while others are rare. There are mistakes which are easily overcome, and there are mistakes that will cost you dearly.

And then there are those mistakes that don’t seem like mistakes when you’re making them; in fact, they seem like bright ideas that will deliver fruitful results.

On the contrary, it’s these disguised errors that can prove the most damaging. And that is why these mistakes are some of the most stupid that a leader can make.

Below I have compiled a list of what I believe are the five most critical mistakes that smart leaders learn to avoid – and in doing so, save themselves quite a lot of time and trouble on their climb to the top of the leadership ladder.

1. Playing Organizational Politics

A common tactic that many leaders try to employ and that always eventually backfires is the mistake of making their team compete on very subjective and hidden criteria.

Leaders lead their employees to believe that they are each pitted against each other in the fight to attain resources, promotions, and influence in the company.

This toxic political environment tends to become a breeding ground for demotivation, conflict, and unproductivity – all of which can be easily avoided simply by evading political instigation in the workplace.

After all, healthy organizations compete against other organizations, not against themselves.

2. Setting Unnecessary Rules

Well-intentioned leaders set rules and procedures in place in order to maintain a decorum and establish processes to be evenly followed by the company.

Yet, rules should only be maintained if experience proves them necessary and beneficial for the organization – and the team itself. Some rules are crucial to guarantee efficiency and concentration of effort.

But, other rules such as strictly adhered working hours or limitation of talking in the office, may be excessive – excessive enough to contribute to employee burnout. You may end up making your team feel dispirited and even discouraged from returning to work day after day.

As a leader, you must strike a balance between giving your team freedom to act, and maintain only the most necessary of rules.

3. Holding Unproductive Meetings

Meetings have increased in frequency and duration over the past few decades, to the point where executives can now expect to spend over 20 hours per week in them.

And, as painful and torturous as meetings are joked to be, this increase in meeting hours can have very real consequences for your team and even your organization.

Whether the meetings are formal or informal, held face-to-face or via call or webcam, planned or impromptu, they are making your employees feel increasingly overwhelmed, exhausted and bored.

Limit meeting hours to no more than 10 per week, and give you team the space to complete their work and deliver real results and beneficial updates every time the team does come together.

4. Taking Away Benefits

Some managers believe that an appropriate and just penalty for employee transgressions or poor performance is to withhold their benefits indefinitely, or for a limited period.

Your company is contractually bound to provide your employees the benefits they are offered at the time of joining. Reversing a benefit or policy often means either putting your employee at a financial disadvantage, or otherwise creating unfavourable circumstances for them.

Although the purpose of taking away benefits may be to make your employee/s feel a pinch that will cause them to return on the right track, this is in fact a sure way to kill employee morale and loyalty.

5. Being an Absentee Leader

Some leaders, for whatever reason, believe in creating a distinguished distance between themselves and their team. In most cases, they are not only psychologically but also physically absent from their roles when the team needs them most. Thereby, they are seldom meaningfully involved with their team.

You may think you’re creating an ideal situation for your team – a boss who isn’t around and lets employees do as they please sounds like a good deal to many.

However, absentee leadership is even more problematic than many other overt leadership mistakes.

Maintain a presence amid your team by taking regular follow-ups even if you cannot be physically present all the time. Your team needs your input and your support in order to continue performing at a productive and effective rate.