Have You Made Mistakes as a Leader?

by Rhonda Scharf


Many of us at IAAP have aspirations of being the best professional we can be. We belong to this association because we know we have more to give, can do more, and want to give it our all. We aren’t complacent. We don’t want to watch the world go by; we want to jump onboard and experience life.

That’s where leadership comes in. Perhaps it is leadership at your place of work, or perhaps it is leadership at your church. For many of you, it is leadership within IAAP where we gain skills, we gain understanding, and we make mistakes.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you have the title “Manager.” It doesn’t mean that you have employees that you need to worry about, or any supervisory capacity either. Being a leader doesn’t mean you are anyone’s “boss.”

I’ve been a boss, and I’ve been a leader, and not necessarily at the same time.

I’ve made, and will continue to make mistakes. If I learn something from my mistake, I consider it a learning experience and that I am a better person because of it.

Mistakes are part of learning. We can all relate to that. As I review a few of the mistakes leaders make, ask yourself if you are guilty. If you are, what are you going to do to change it?

Mistakes Leaders Make:

Becoming one of the team

I was young, eager, and excited to get the promotion in our department. To me, that meant more money, more responsibility, and that I was on the fast track to success in the company that I worked for. What I didn’t realize was my new role meant making some changes from my old role. I wasn’t exactly one of the team anymore.

When I realized that my “friends” considered me management now, I was determined to not lose my place in my group of peers. I still had lunch with them daily, I still shared my personal life issues, and I still complained about the boss.


When you step into a leadership role, you have to realize that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You cannot be “one of the guys” with your team the same way you used to be. Being a leader in your company isn’t about making friends. It is about being the best you that you can be. Are you looking for short-term friends or long-term personal growth?

That didn’t mean I couldn’t have friends at work. It meant that  I created boundaries. When we were at work, I was in a leadership role, and I wasn’t the person to complain about the boss anymore, nor vent too much about my own personal issues. I treated everyone with professional respect. When we were outside of work, we agreed that we would not discuss any work issues. Boundaries were very important.

I didn’t have to lose my friends, but I did realize that we had a new dynamic within our relationships. I didn’t complain about work, and they didn’t either. While at work we didn’t discuss our personal lives the same way we used to. Boundaries make it possible.

Throw the team under the bus

As much as I like reality television, it has taught us some very bad life lessons. When something goes wrong, it doesn’t have to be someone’s fault, and we don’t need to always find someone to blame.

We are too used to voting people off the island, or hypothetically “firing” them when they let the team down.

A good leader doesn’t work that way at all. If you are leading your team (in management or not), take responsibility for when things don’t go as planned. Don’t always look for someone to blame. Focus on the issues, and what can be done and not on who did what.

When I walk into my doctor’s office, I don’t want the office receptionist to show she is on “my side” by complaining that the doctor is always late. I want her to show leadership and take care of the situation as much as she can. When she complains to me about the doctor, she is throwing him “under the bus” in an effort to gain my sympathy or support.

Flying under the radar

This is a habit that many administrative professionals need to fix immediately. We need to learn to toot our own horn. We need to show others that we are capable, and willing to step up to the plate. We want to be seen as belonging in a leadership role because we earned it.

That doesn’t mean we should walk around all day pointing out all the things that we do, and saying things like without us the office would fall apart. It does mean that when someone says “Thank you” for something, you don’t quickly dismiss his or her compliment.

When my husband, Warren, and I were dating, he was very complimentary to me. As many can relate to, I was uncomfortable with his compliments and brushed them aside. He pointed out that when I did that, I was dismissing something that he thought was valid by saying, “No that isn’t true” by my words and actions. He pointed out that I needed to be able to accept a compliment, and not insult the giver.

Do you insult the giver? When someone compliments you about your work, do you tell him or her they are wrong or give the compliment to someone else? Do you say things like “Oh, it was really Rachel who did the hard parts” or comments similar to that? While Rachel may have been instrumental in helping me get the task done, she doesn’t deserve all of the credit, so don’t give her all of the credit. Learn to say thank you, and learn to stop giving away your reputation and credibility.

Do you make a point to come prepared and speak up at meetings? Do you hold value for your company?  You should; especially if you are in a leadership role. Show yourself, the company, and your coworkers that you have something to contribute. Be prepared so that when you do contribute, it is valuable.

Stepping into a leadership role is very difficult. You’ve probably committed some of these errors already (I certainly have), and likely to in the future as well. What we need to do is learn from the mistakes, and not continue to repeat them without any learning.

summit-graphic-v2Catch Rhonda and other spectacular speakers at IAAP Summit 2018 in Austin, Texas. Find out why IAAP Summit is the go-to conference for office and administrative professionals year-in and year-out.


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