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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

There is no such thing as a manager who doesn't make mistakes. But some mistakes are more significant than others and their impact on the business more damaging.

As the chief executive officer of one of Canada's largest government relations and public relations consultancies, my business is all about people, so it's no surprise that my list of the top five management mistakes to avoid are all people-related.

While consultants are supposed to put their clients first, the job of the CEO is to put your people first. They are the first line of communication with your clients, and you need to create an environment where people want to work for you so you can attract the best talent and minimize staff turnover. It might seem counter-intuitive, but I often tell prospective clients, "My most important job isn't to look after you – it's to look after my team." That's because a year from now, I know our clients will hold me accountable for the quality work and stable, consistent support my teams provide.

For me, getting the people issues right makes the rest of managing that much easier.

1. Don't isolate yourself.

Modern standards of management demand an openness and transparency about how decisions are made. Most CEOs will tell you that the hardest thing to achieve is internal alignment behind strategic plans. You'll never mobilize support if you isolate yourself from the company or make your plan all about you. Everyone must share in the success of the company together as a team. You'll build more loyalty that way and be a more credible and mentoring leader for the people you need to retain in order to be a successful firm.

Try to discipline yourself to use the word "we" instead of "I."

2. Don't sweat the small stuff.

You've got people who report to you for a reason. Their job is to help you execute on the finer details; your job is to stay focused on the big picture. You have to learn to trust those who report to you, even if they don't do things the way you would or if they make occasional mistakes. That's how people learn, and you'll see more quality performance if people know you trust them. Delegating authority properly will streamline your work flow and reassure others that you're focused on the key priorities of the firm.

The more you sweat the small stuff, the more you train people to count on you to do the thinking for them.

3. Don't issue vague directions.

If your directions to your teams aren't clear, it's usually a sign that you're not sure yourself where you want to go. Crisp up what you want to see accomplished, by when and by whom. It will save your employees from wasting time trying to figure out what the boss is asking for.

Clarity in direction always produces better results.

4. Don't rationalize your mistakes.

The boss is always made much more human if he or she has the confidence and humility to admit to mistakes. It underscores that the company believes in learning and constant improvement. When ego gets in the way, mistakes get baked into the operations of a company, and communication from your staff becomes more guarded and less forthright. You'll get far more credit from your employees if you deal with your mistakes head-on.

Infallible leadership doesn't exist. Don't pretend it does.

5. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

As the leader, you don't have to be the fount of all wisdom. In fact, if you think you are, it's a pretty good bet that your company is in trouble. A leader must be able to listen to the advice she is given. There are always people who will know more than you. Your job is to draw it out of them and to learn how to use their knowledge to best serve the organization you're leading.

As my wife often tells me: "Listen up!"

Michael Coates (@MCoates_HK) is the chairman and chief executive officer of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada (@hk_canada).