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3 Common Mistakes of Group Project Leaders

Being a successful leader of a group project takes forethought and effort. You are likely to make many mistakes at the beginning of your tenure as a project leader, but knowing some common pitfalls beforehand can help you to avoid leading your team down an unsuccessful path. Whether you’re deciding to take on the mantle of leader of your own free will, or because it’s your job, these common mistakes should be avoided at all costs.

They don’t make a plan

Planning and organization are the hallmarks of a successful leader. Others on the team may have specialized expertise and know how to execute on their tasks with precision, but it’s the leader’s job to get everyone moving in the right direction and help them stay on course.

Before bringing your group together for an initial planning session, you must have a preliminary plan outlined. Coming to the meeting with suggestions will help get the meeting moving and avoid wasted time. Once your meeting is convened, you can work out the finer details of the project with your team.

Plans should have:
  • Action items
  • Deadlines
  • Owners

I like to think of project plans like roadmaps, which I know if a corporate cliché. I think it’s useful to visualize your project as though you’re literally driving a car with your teammates following along behind you. You are in charge of navigating and can easily steer your team members off course.
Here’s a common example of a project task being poorly defined.

Many projects require a presentation at the end. It is easy to assume that each member of the project will be in charge of their own slide in the presentation. As the leader, you give everyone their assignments and let them know that, during the next meeting, the team will put their slides together. You might say this assuming that it is clear that everyone needs to come to the meeting, not only with their project tasks complete but with their slides crafted.

When you arrive at the meeting, you may find that everyone assumed you would be making the template. This could have been avoided by defining the creation of presentation slides as an action item, asking everyone to bring their slide to the next meeting, and reminding everyone that they are the owner of their particular section.

They make assumptions

A common pitfall I myself have made many times is to assume that because I said something, everyone will remember it. This ties back into making a plan for the project. A team leader needs to communicate with their group frequently and in different ways. Some people like to see written directions, some like to hear it spoken. After you have made a plan and gotten buy-in from the group, you must reiterate what was discussed in a follow-up email.

As a team leader, it’s your responsibility to keep everyone on track. Check-in individually and with the group as a whole. Remind them of deadlines, let them know to come to you if they hit a roadblock (another corporate cliché) and generally keep the project on the top of their minds.

Since you are the team leader, the project might have significant weight in your mind. You probably think of it as relatively important compared with other projects you are working on. However, it’s important to remember that your group members might have competing priorities. Reminding them of the project and keeping them on track will make sure that your project hasn’t been pushed to the end of the line or even forgotten about.

They are afraid to take charge (afraid to lead)

Leadership is defined in a million different ways and can be endlessly broken down into separate characteristics and attributes. To me, leadership means bringing a group together and steering them to complete a goal. This means that a leader needs to be decisive, have great communication, present a confident face, and do it all with enthusiasm. (Click here for other qualities of great leaders according to Forbes.)
  • Communication – A leader can’t be afraid to talk, remind, and get others talking to each other. They should listen just as much if not more than they talk and should ask questions and get support for ideas.
  • Decisiveness – Sometimes, a situation simply calls for a final decision. It falls upon the leader to make that decision. If half the group wants one thing, the other wants the other, you must talk it through with the group, explain your viewpoint and make the decision that you feel is best. Decisiveness without tyranny will help others rely on you and see you as the leader.
  • Confidence – It will be hard for others to see you as their leader if you don’t see yourself as the leader. Even if you have your doubts about your competence, there are tactful ways to remain looking confident while still asking for help. You can still appear confident, and let your team know that will be relying on their expertise and insights. Saying self-deprecating things won’t do anyone any good.
  • Enthusiasm – Leaders are cheerleaders. They are in charge of demonstrating why the others on the team should care about the project. Have you ever heard that smiling is contagious? It applies to more than just smiling. If you are having fun, others are more likely to join you. No one wants to follow a leader who is miserable and doesn’t see value in the project.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower Tweet: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

These common mistakes of group project leaders can take time to master. Most leaders make mistakes in the beginning, but with proper reflection, they can be overcome. Being a successful leader of a group project requires planning, communication, enthusiasm, confidence and a whole host of other attributes. Avoid making these mistakes though, and you’ll be well on your way to leading a successful group project.

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