5 Mistakes Leaders Make That Slow Down Business

by Stephen Danos

When leaders move with speed, whether in decision-making or in running efficient meetings, the benefits can spread throughout an entire organization.

Studies show that leaders ranked in the top 10 percent based on their leadership speed see positive results in the attitudes of their direct reports — 63 percent of whom say they would do everything possible to make their company successful.

That’s according to the book Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, in which the authors propose that there is no statistical downside to speed, as long as leaders take the time to periodically pause and reassess whether their efforts are aligned to their organization's overall strategy.

Business leaders who avoid these five common pitfalls can motivate their teams to execute more quickly — and at a higher level.

Mistake #1: Lengthy Interactions (That Should Be Brief)

Uninterrupted focus time is all too rare for most executives and managers, as they are expected to collaborate regularly on strategic initiatives. While this is essential to teamwork and planning, they can fall down rabbit holes of randomization when they should be focusing on the next task.

To reclaim the time needed for focused work, leaders can model healthy speed, setting a productive pace. One straightforward fix is to set expectations around speed in order to accelerate these everyday interactions.

Simply put: Make your meetings shorter, and insist on starting and ending on time. There are many things managers can do to speed up meetings and their decision-making process.

Mistake #2: Poor Communication

When teams and departments are out of alignment, poor communication and a lack of visibility are often the culprits. Business leaders can communicate more effectively using a variety of tactics.

Clear communication helps teams and their stakeholders accomplish more, faster. It leads to clearer direction and fewer unexpected or inexplicable pivots, setting the stage for better collaboration and improved support from teammates.

A work execution and management platform can help by giving team members visibility into ongoing work and important data.

For example, Smartsheet dashboards give leaders and teams unprecedented insight into task status and accountability, performance metrics and critical KPIs, and much more. They also give teams a single source of information, which reduces the potential for miscommunication around action plans, data, and organizational goals.

Mistake #3: Lack of Delegation

Business leaders need to know that they can trust their team with important decisions and project tasks. Delegation frees up their time for planning and strategizing, while their team members execute.

As a bonus, it can really buoy a team’s confidence and skill set to take on new tasks that contribute to the team’s success. To be clear, we’re not just talking about busy work. Instead, leaders should hand over responsibilities that can truly advance their team’s professional development.


How Siloed Teams Can Make Collaboration a Habit

For example, say a director of marketing needs to pull and interpret metrics from an A/B test for an email marketing campaign. Rather than pulling the data down themselves, they can give someone on their team a crack at the analytics, and have them provide the baseline metrics for what will ultimately frame the final report.  

This approach is more collaborative and constructive, as the director frees herself to focus on higher-level strategic thinking, enabling her team to make decisions even faster.

Mistake #4: Too Much Multitasking

Multitasking takes a toll on all leaders. Brain bandwidth is reduced whenever a person multitasks, creating disorganization and a slower pace for pivoting between projects.

In Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, the authors state that when drivers fiddle with their radios, they decrease their brain bandwidth by 37 percent — a tremendous dip in brain power for an action that millions of people do every day without thinking twice!


For More Productive Teams, Get Back to Basics

Now, imagine juggling all the strategic initiatives for an entire business intelligence or customer success department. Effective business leaders who focus on one task at a time can more efficiently and quickly complete it, and have a higher aptitude for prioritization of both task and their ideas.

However, it’s unrealistic to expect leaders to quit multitasking altogether. But there are simple techniques that can help make multitasking more efficient and reduce the impact on your brain’s working memory load.

For example, if you’re creating a report for senior leadership from multiple metric-based presentations from different team members, you can first combine them all into a single shared, cloud-based deck. This simple step to reduce the time spent toggling back and forth between reports actually lightens your cognitive load, so you can focus on strategic initiatives.

Mistake #5: Working in Isolation

Employees are aware of when their chief executives walk past their cubicle or group workspace. If their manager or leader holes up in their office all day, it can promote the perspective that nothing is getting done — or worse, create a feeling of disconnect between teams and their leaders.

Frankly put, it’s hard for teams to feel inspired if their leaders isolate themselves, sending a message of inaccessibility that removes them from the pulse of their office community. Leaders who don’t check in and connect with their employees miss the chance to create a team culture that encourages accountability.

Just asking an individual contributor for a quick summation of a workplace challenge they’re currently solving is a great way to make them feel like they’re making an impact, and motivate them to resolve it faster.


3 Reasons Business Leaders Make Bad Decisions

Room for Improvement

It can be inspiring when leaders take the initiative, keep their commitments, and make all of their interactions impactful and quick. After all, if an executive wants individuals to feel empowered to make changes and move fast, they need to stay connected to their workforce and practice what they preach.