The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make | Notes & Review

Posted on December 9, 2010


Hans Finzel. The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. David C. Cook, 2007. (224 pages)


A leader takes people where they would never go on their own. (19)

The good you do can be destroyed by the precautions you fail to take. (22) An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of good leadership. (22)

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. – George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

1. THE TOP-DOWN ATTITUDE: The Number One Leadership Hang-Up

Big Idea: Human nature leads all of us to want to dominate others. The top-down leadership style is all about command and control, an is the opposite of empowerment. When we first move into positions of leadership, we tend to view ourselves on “top” because we have the smarts, personality, and gifting that got us there. The temptation is to dominate followers and oppress them with the habits of command-and-control cultures. The top-down attitude places the leader as the most important person at the top of the organizational pyramid. (40)

  • The top-down attitude comes naturally to most people. It is human nature’s default position.
  • Servant leadership is much more rare. This is the person who puts the organization’s well-being ahead of his own.
  • Effective leaders see themselves at the bottom of an inverted pyramid. There are many ways to draw organizational charts. The servant leader carries the organization on his or her shoulders as makes it a goal to make everyone else a winner.

“Hitler, who loathed universal education, knew that ignorance goes hand-in-hand with gullibility.” – The Royal Bank Letter (28)

Why do a lot of people fall into the trap of top-down leadership attitudes? 1. It’s traditional; 2. It’s the most common; 3. It’s the easiest; 4. It comes naturally; 5. It reflects the dark side of human nature.

Work is inherently distasteful to most people Work is as natural as play, if conditions are favorable.
Most people are not ambitious, have little desire for responsibility, and prefer to be directed. Self-control is often indispensable in achieving organizational goals.
Most people have little capacity for creativity in solving organization problems. The capacity for creativity in solving organizational problems is widely distributed in the population.
Motivation occurs only at the physiological and safety levels. Motivation occurs at social and self-actualization levels, as well as physiological and security levels.
Most people must be closely controlled and often coerced to achieve organizational goals. People can be self-directed and creative at work, if properly motivated.

–Hersey, Blanchard, and Dewey, Management of Organizational Behavior

Theory X focuses on tactics of direction and control through the exercise of authority. Theory Y, on the other hand, focuses on the nature of human relationships — the integration of personal goals with the success of the enterprise. (32)

“Why People Follow Other People”

5. POSITION (Title) “Rights”
People follow because they have to. Your influence will not extend beyond the lines of your job description. The longer you stay here ,the higher the turnover and lower the morale. People begin to limit you, to put fences around you. You can’t stay here more than two years.

4. PERMISSION “Relationships”
People follow because they want to. People will follow you beyond your stated authority. This level allows work to be fun. Caution: Staying too long on this level without rising will cause highly  motivated people to become restless.

3. PRODUCTION “Results”
People follow because of what you have done for the organization. This is where success is sensed by most people. They like you and what you ar doing. Problems are fixed with very little effort because of momentum. (Don’t let the momentum stop!)

2. PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT “Reproduction”
People follow because of what you have done for them personally. This is where long-range growth occurs. Your commitment to developing leaders will ensure ongoing growth to the organization and to people. Do whatever you can to achieve and stay on this level.

1. PERSONHOOD “Respect”
People follow you because of who you are what you represent. This step is reserved for leaders who have spent years growing people and organizations. Few make it. Those who do are bigger than life!

– Dr. John Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You

2. PUTTING PAPERWORK BEFORE PEOPLE WORK: Confessions of a Type A Personality

Big Idea: Successful leaders have to master great people skills. The higher one rises in his or her leadership role, the more his or her job will become about working with people and spending critical time with them. Yet paperwork threatens that success as we are buried in distractions that keep us away from tending those we need to. Leaders have to learn to manage the paper flow to stay in touch with their people. (58)

  • The greater the leadership role, the less time there seems to be for people–leaders have to be readers, but that itself creates a huge problem of paper overload. Computers have not reduced paperwork, in fact they have increased it! Computers and the internet have exponentially increased distractions for busy leaders.
  • The greater the leadership role, the more important people-work is–successful leaders know how to work with people, and it is those people skills that keep them effective. The higher we travel in leadership responsibility, the more our success hinges on spending time with our key staff members in the art of people work.
  • People are opportunities, not interruptions–many successful leaders have type A personalities and are driven to accomplish tasks. We have to lay aside tasks at times and see people as our real work.
  • Only through association is there transformation–we cannot change people if we do not spend time with them. People who do not change their minds can’t change anything, and it takes face time with people to see such transformation.

Leadership is essentially a people business. (49)

3. THE ABSENCE OF AFFIRMATION: What Could Be Better Than a Pay Raise?

Big Idea: Poor leaders demand a great deal from people and never give them a pat on the back for a job well done. Effective leaders realize that most people are motivated more by affirmation and encouragement rather than by financial reward. A huge leadership mistake is to neglect this emotional support that our followers so desperately need. it is the source of high turnover in many organizations and companies, as people leave to find more empowering leadership cultures. (70)

  • Everyone thrives on affirmation and praise–since the time we were children we have all loved to get praise for a job well done. Our need for affirmation does not diminish as we grow older!
  • We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch of kindness–for many people, words of affirmation are at the top of their love languages. Encouraging words give people the fuel to go on even in the most intense work environments. Show love to your workers and they will follow you anywhere!
  • Learn to read the varying levels of affirmation your people need–different people who work for you need different degrees and amounts of affirmation. Learn how to read your followers and dish out the encouragement accordingly.

They need the most encouragement at the early stages of a new job or assignment. (63)

4. NO ROOM FOR MAVERICKS: They Bring Us The Future!

Big Idea: We use the word maverick here to connote pioneer, what Webster’s dictionary describes as “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.” The lifecycle of every organization seems to eventually move from passion to paralysis over time, and it is the pioneer spirit of a maverick that can save us. History is filled with many examples of innovators who were greatly misunderstood–but went on to create positive beneficial revolutions that changed the world. We have to learn how to recognize useful mavericks and make them a part of our teams. (87)

  • Mavericks can save us from the slide toward institutionalism. Over time our man made organizations grow old, rigid and tired, just like we humans do. The pioneering spirit of mavericks can stop that slide and turn it around.
  • Large organizations usually kill of mavericks before they can take root. The larger and older an organization gets, the more it tends to reject creative types. We have to learn how to cultivate pioneers among us.
  • Mavericks make messes by their very nature–the good messes institutions need. Institutions become too organized for their own good, and thus have a hard time accepting the disruption that change agents bring. these are the good messes we need to give ourselves a rebirth at middle age!
  • Learn to recognize truly useful mavericks. Some people just love to complain, but there are useful mavericks who do not just cause trouble, but rather truly want to make a difference. We need to create space in our organizations for these beneficial mavericks to flourish.

I’m looking for a lot of men with an infinite capacity for not knowing what can’t be done. – Henry Ford

When we become too preoccupied with policy, procedure, and the fine-tuning of conformity to organizational standards, in effect, we squeeze out some of our most gifted people. (74)

Organizations have this nasty habit of becoming institutions. And institutions have this great tendency to fade into irrelevance. movements become monuments. Inspiration becomes nostalgic. (74) Organizations follow a pattern as they move from passion to paralysis, from the apostolic to the mechanistic! (75)

The best committee has three members–if two of them are out of town. (81)

In the absence of great dreams, pettiness prevails. (84)

5. DICTATORSHIP IN DECISION MAKING: Getting Beyond “I Know All the Answers”

Big Idea: No one likes to live under dictators–they take all the fun out of life and work! dictators in the business world hog all the decision-making. They feel that by virtue of their ownership, position, intelligence, or birthright, they are in charge of every key decision that will be made in the company or organization. These traditionalists do not see the value of facilitative leadership or the power of teams. Needless to say, dictators attract weak workers and cannot create a positive, empowering workplace. (108)

  • Dictators deny the value of individuals. The value of a dictator’s organization resides at the top, not among the rank and file of its members. Dictators use people, they do not empower them.
  • The major players in any organization are like its stock-holders: They should have a say in its direction–they should have a say in its direction. Whether for a ministry or a business, every employee should have a sense of pride and ownership for the collective vision and passion of the company. the more ownership people sense, the more effort they will put forth for the group. Everyone in the leadership community should have major input into direction and policy.
  • The one who does the job should decide how it is done. The best management practice is to push decisions down to the people on the front lines. Let the people who are responsible for the outcome have as much ownership as possible in decision-making.
  • “Flat” organizations are the model of the future. Though there are many ways to draw organizational charts, people today prefer to work in flat organizations without huge bureaucracies over their heads. Young workers especially prefer a shorter distance between the front lines and the CEO. Top down pyramids are a thing of the past!

We know by looking at history that the greatest strides forward in any field usually come from the “radical fringe,” as opposed to the institutional core. (92)

This is facilitative leadership.

6. DIRTY DELEGATION: Refusing to Relax and Let Go

Big Idea: Dirty delegation follows right on the heals [sic.] of dictatorship in decision making. It is all about refusing to let go of control. A person who delegates well gives people a job to do and the responsibility and freedom to see the job through. Dirty delegators constantly watch workers over their shoulders and cannot relax and let go of the task.

  • Overmanaging is one of the great cardinal sins of poor leadership. Leaders who cannot let go of delegated projects are insecure. They worry that no one can do the job as well as they can. Ultimately their hang up is that they don’t believe in the abilities of other people.
  • Nothing frustrates those who work for you more than sloppy delegation with too many strings attached. Giving an employee a job without the space to complete it is demeaning. This behavior communicates to an employee that he or she is a child who cannot be trusted. No one enjoys working in this type of smothering environment, and there is no way that the people in this situation can grow.
  • Delegation should match each worker’s follow-through ability. As leaders, we have to learn the capacity and abilities of the people who work for us. We must learn who we can trust with responsibilities. Those who are faithful with a little should be given ever greater tasks to manage.

Why don’t leaders delegate?

  • Fear of losing authority
  • Fear of work being done poorly
  • Fear of work being done better
  • Unwillingness to take the necessary time
  • Fear of depending on others
  • Lack of leadership training and positive delegation experience
  • Fear of losing value in the organization

The four stages of delegation: 1) assignment, 2) authority, 3) accountability, 4) affirmation (116)

Four questions every follower asks: 1) What am I suppose to do? 2) Will you let me do it? 3) Will you help me when I need it? 4) Will you let me know how I’m doing? — Dr. Lorne Sonny, The Business Ministry Journal (117)

7. COMMUNICATION CHAOS: Singing from the Same Page in the Hymnal

Big Idea: Communication systems are the arteries in an organization. Without good blood flow, an organization can become sick. Leaders must make communication a vital aspect of every day, and that communication must focus in four directions: inward, outward, upward, and downward. Both employees and customers or constituents should be informed of the direction of leadership. As should both those who work below us as well as those who work above us. We never communicate enough, and we usually communicate way less than we think we do. It is a rare organization that has been found guilty of over-communicating.

  • Never assume that anyone knows anything. Most of us live in the dark about what is really going on in the organizations we are a part of. We should just assume that no one is informed and take the necessary time to tell them. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • The bigger the group, the more attention must be given to communication. The bigger organizations get, the more formal communication must become. Startups are usually small enough for verbal communication to get the job done. But as offices are added and the walls go higher, formal communication becomes more critical than ever but is often ignored.
  • When left in the dark, people tend to dream up wild rumors. This is where human nature always shows its dark side. People tend to think the worst of each other, instead of the best. Rumors destroy morale, and are best grown in the fertile soil of a communication-less organization. It is the job of effective leaders to build communication bridges throughout their organization and make sure that people are talking to each other.
  • Communication must be the passionate obsession of effective leadership. Leaders love to talk about vision, but they often fall short of selling it. The higher you go in an organization, the more you must give yourself to telling and selling the vision to those inside and out.

The words information and communication are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. – Sydney J. Harris, Publishers-Hall Syndicate

Like hardening of the arteries, restricted communication will destroy a leader’s credibility. (140)


The vision and values of the group.
The chain of command.
Organizational charts.
Job descriptions/position descriptions.

8. MISSING THE CLUES OF CORPORATE CULTURE: The Unseen Killer of Many Leaders

Big Idea: Every business, church, or company has its own culture. Companies are like families, no two of which behave exactly the same. Corporate “culture” is the way a company behaves based on the values and traditions its employees hold. Successful leaders learn how to harness the culture of their group for the common good.

  • Corporate culture is “the way we do things around here.”
  • Never underestimate the mighty power of your organization’s culture. It is impossible to initiate change in an organization without first understanding its culture.
  • Cultivating and changing the culture should be one of leadership’s top priorities. Changing the culture in an organization takes a Herculean effort over many years,  but it can be done. It is through those efforts that real lasting change takes root.
  • Learn to respect values different from your own. Values are relative, beliefs are absolute. Learning the difference is an essential task for leaders as they learn to sift through their corporate culture. Sometimes we must learn to give up on the smaller issues so we can affect the larger ones.

Traditionally, culture has been defined simply as the unique customs, values, and artifacts of a people. (157)

9. SUCCESS WITHOUT SUCCESSORS: Planning Your Departure the Day You Start

Big Idea: We love to think we are unique and irreplaceable as leaders. But the fact is, we will have to move on some day and leave our legacy to someone else. The last great task of any leader is to work toward a replacement who will pick up where they left off. This task should not be left until the last year of one’s tenure, but should be an ongoing process of mentorship with each rising crop of new leaders. (199)

  • Pride tightens the grip on leadership; humility relaxes and lets go. It can be threatening to develop a replacement for many reasons. We can sometimes feel like our worth is tied up in our position. Secure leaders recognize that they are not irreplaceable, and work with humility at cultivating the next generations of leaders.
  • Finishing well is an important measure of success in leadership. Mature leaders are proud of what they have accomplished and have a sense of timing and tenure. There comes a time in the journey when they are ready to turn over leadership to another person. We do not all have the chance to choose our replacements, but we can cultivate a pool of people to pick from who are well qualified.
  • Letting go of leadership is like sending your children away to college: It hurts, but has to be done. There are many reasons why leaders can’t let go, but ultimately they have to. The more successful they were, and the longer their tenure, the harder parting will be for them.
  • Mentoring is a nonnegotiable function of successful leadership. There are many ways to get involved with mentoring. Learn how to develop your own mentoring “constellation.”

10. FAILURE TO FOCUS ON THE FUTURE: Prepare Yourself — It’s Later Than You Think

Big Idea: Leaders get paid to think about the future. it is the job of a leader to anticipate the opportunities and threats that await an organization around the next curve. Such thoughts should be crafted into a vision statement to help propel the organization in the right direction. To ignore the future is to fail as a leader.

  • The future is rushing toward us at breakneck speed. The pace of change intensifies with each year. it seems like the shelf life of useful ideas gets shorter every month. Today’s leaders must study the future as they become “futurists” in their particular discipline.
  • A leader’s concentration must not be on the past nor on the present, but on the future. The past is finished. Whatever happened there cannot be undone. the present is being dealt with on the basis of yesterday’s plans. That leaves only the future as the focus of an effective leader. To neglect the future is the biggest mistake a leader can make.
  • Vision is an effective leader’s chief preoccupation. Above mentoring, communicating, and paying attention to people, a leader must obsess about the future. Vision is essential to every effective leader.
  • Organizations are reinvented with new generations of dreamers. Dreamers, from Walt Disney to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Billy Graham to Mother Teresa, changed the world by envisioning a state of things better than before. Businesses and churches need these kinds of dreamers to stay relevant in a changing world. Recruit dreamers. Spend time as leaders dreaming about what could be.

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped, to deal with a world that no longer exists. – Robin Cook, Abduction

When you list a set of goals for your mission, they should be SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Trackable. (215)

I am a dreamer. Some men see things as they are, and ask why; I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? – George Bernard Shaw

— VIA —

This read was a quick one, as virtually the entire essence of the book is recorded above. The rest is filled with stories, anecdotes, illustrations, several quotes, and a few outlines. The weakness of this work is its strength. Many times I got the feeling that this was one guy’s compilation of notes and stories that he’s collected over the years of reading other leadership books. So, if you’ve been in this genre a bit, it can seem a bit redundant and over-simplified. However, the synthesis of the information in this format is an excellent resource for someone who hasn’t delved into the other authors. It is accessible and arranged well.

Great starter book for anyone entering into the genre, and especially if you’re Christian as the author alludes to Jesus and the Scriptures sporadically throughout the book.