FailCommunications directors and development directors are not magicians or miracle workers, and yet many executive directors and boards seem to think they should be able to pull rabbits out of hats and turn water into wine.

Too often, when I coach communications directors through their daily challenges, I find that their jobs are being made so much harder than they should be because of a handful of leadership failures.

Here are five that I see all the time — I’m sure people who coach fundraisers or program staff would have their own variations on this list.

1. No Real Strategy

Strategy, by definition, requires choices to be made.  What is the best way to reach a goal? Not a bunch of ways, but the best way, in your best judgement?  “All of the above” is not strategy. “Spray and pray” is not strategy. Leaders need to ensure strategy is in place.

2. No Sense of Priorities

What is the single most important thing (the SMIT, a term I learned from Tom Ahern) this quarter, this month, this week? Of course, you have to do more than one thing at a time, but if your managers can’t put them in order of priority, that’s a leadership failure. Yes, I mean 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and no ties! The reality is that you can’t always get everything done (in fact you rarely can), so staff need guidance about what falls off the list.  Leaders listen, then decide, and prioritize.

3. Only Putting Things on the List, Never Taking Any Off

That mile-long list of so-called priorities just keeps getting longer and longer. You have finite amounts of time and money to spend in a given week, month, or quarter. If leaders are always giving you more things to do, without taking anything off the list, it’s an even worse combination of #1 and #2, because now they are burning out staff as well.

4. No Willingness to Experiment and Learn

The world of marketing and fundraising is changing, and fast. If your leaders aren’t willing to try new approaches, to allow you to experiment, then to discuss what happened, learn from it and adjust, you can’t possibly keep the pace required to do amazing work.

5. Too Much Strategic Planning

You need a strategy (see #1). But if your organization is spending six months to create a two-year strategic plan, that’s way too much pie-in-the-sky pontificating and not enough doing of the work. Planning alone doesn’t change the world.  You have to put in the time to actually make the plan a reality. I see so many communications directors in indefinite holding patterns because they are waiting on some strategic plan that, in reality, probably won’t direct the work that much anyway. Just get on with it!

Are these leadership failures holding you back? Can you help fix them? Can you move on without them? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

P.S. Are you an executive director who thinks you are giving your staff all the guidance they need? Go double check with them! They’ll be glad you asked, and you will too!