The Quickest Ways You Can avoid Leadership Pitfalls Without Tearing Your Hair Out
Leadership teams have the ability to shape and drive their organization when they can be effective but with individuals coming from many different backgrounds and roles, challenges are bound to arise. The good news is there are some easy-peasy ways that will help you to avoid the most common pitfalls of leadership without tearing your hair out!
Much of today’s leadership strategy focuses on what high performing leaders should do.
Certainly, that material helps from a theoretical and aspirational point of view. Yet what really haunts leaders on a day-to-day basis is the mistakes that they make. They don’t trip up because they are bad people; they most often fumble because of a lack of knowledge, bad habits or too much stress. They fall into the most common pitfalls of leadership.
We all know the stories of the once successful leader who flamed out too soon.
It could be a moral failure or burnout, but they somewhere they got off track and had a hard time regaining traction. So sad. In years of studying leadership in the business world, I’ve seen some consistent traps which get in the way of a leader’s long-term success. I call them pitfalls.
The pitfalls of leadership spring from within.
As a leader it is simple to conceptually identify the principles one should embody based on those who were in the role before. But the challenge is avoiding the pitfalls that can sabotage even the best intentions. Dangers that emerge from within are more perilous than dangers that attack from without.
Here are five pitfalls most leaders fall into — and how you can avoid them too.
Exceptional leaders recognize and avoid the most common pitfalls of leadership to continue growing and leading successful teams. So, in order to address these potential pitfalls, you need to identify them first. Here’s 5 common leadership pitfalls and how to avoid them without tearing your hair out.
Pitfall #1: Pride Is Weakness
Pride is an important element to leadership. Leaders must exude confidence in order to get results. They should use their charisma to build relationships and a culture of commitment. But sometimes pride has a negative effect on leaders. When pride is all that the leader knows, he will not be prepared for times of crisis, failure and personal errors.
Pride is dangerous because it causes a leader to think they are better than they actually are. They see themselves through an unrealistic lens.
Pride can prevent you from learning, changing, and moving into your potential. It causes you to think you have “arrived” in your knowledge and abilities. It can also bring division between yourself and your people. It can prevent you from seeing things through their viewpoint or perspective. And might cause you to make unwise, uncalculated, and high risk decisions which affect yourself and your organization. They think they are a modern day superman.
Perhaps our biggest and most pernicious temptation is pride.
We’re motivated, we’re full of ideas, we feel we can change the world. That’s good, but it can also be bad when it seals us off from needed rebuke, the wisdom of mentors, and constructive criticism. Leaders must be wary, very wary, of the various ways that pride disguises itself as something good. They must display their vulnerability to followers, and this act will create more trust in the organization and a deeper belief in the leader.
The ultimate leader embraces his imperfection and uses it to model humility for his team.
It takes courage to stand out there and say you’re not perfect, but great leaders do it all the time. When the leader attempts to right the wrong by bragging about how great he is and how much he has done for the organization, everyone gets the message that the leader cannot accept his own imperfection. Prideful leaders should stop propping themselves up on a pedestal and accept that they’re human like the rest of us.
Great leaders resist the temptation to take credit for their team’s efforts.
They base their confidence on their own God-given talents, self-discipline, integrity, and competence. They don’t need to take confidence away from others to prove themselves. They are secure. Their effort speaks for itself. In fact, great leaders are humble. They have no need for self-aggrandizement. They focus on their employees, children, and constituents — not themselves.
Pitfall #2: Burning Out People
Organizations have a tendency to overload high performers with work, but it’s imperative that all employees maintain a proper work-life balance. People who devote attention to their personal life perform better in their professional life. Leaders should create an environment where employees can make their needs known, boundaries are respected, work is set at a reasonable pace, and the signs of burnout are recognized.
Effective leaders recognize their personal challenges, address them with the right habits, and move on to confer those same benefits team wide.
Psychologists have known for a while that members in a group will begin to adopt the emotions and behaviors of the highest-status person in that group. It happens almost automatically, without us even realizing it. So, when leaders try to run on empty for the sake of the team, they may end up having the opposite effect. Instead of saving people, they may unknowingly model a behavior that causes others to burn out too.
Ultimately, if you don’t know where you are are going, any road will take you there, but when this principle is applied to business, it’s not always the best or most effective path.
Without a clear plan in place, each team member will interpret what success looks like differently, so while they might all be churning through work, if there’s no common goal or purpose you might be wasting valuable time. The mistake we often see leaders make within organizations is allowing themselves to be blinded by how busy or hardworking their team are, and letting this mask the fact that there are still gaps in business strategy.
Clear leaders are the ones who often and with consistency reminds their organization of the “why” of the organization.
They clearly state the mission and vision (a compelling image of success) to their people. Everyone in the organization knows why they do the work they do. Everyone feels a part of the team and knows the work they do contributes to the success of the mission. The force of the organization’s energy is all going in one direction. Clarity breeds loyalty.
When there’s too many things to do, usually one of two things happen — either it just gets too hard and your people end up doing nothing.
Or, almost equally detrimental, your people start doing absolutely everything, which can lead to chaos, confusion, and ultimately result in lots of half finished projects, with nothing being seen through to completion. The goal should instead be to commit to an amount of projects that will stretch your team, without overwhelming them. Do this by identifying the ‘big dominos’ — the projects that will have the greatest impact on the business and have flow on results to other areas.
Pitfall #3: Not Giving Feedback
As a leader, you know that communication is the cornerstone of effective leadership. However, you must understand that communication is an ongoing process. It’s not about occasional conversations, either; it’s all about a continuous discussion that happens within your organization. And you must be the one to drive the dialogue.
Feedback is an essential practice to any organization.
When used properly, feedback pushes individuals and teams to grow and enhance their work. Unfortunately, many feedback processes are either outdated or broken. Formally giving and receiving feedback once a year won’t cut it for some organizations and giving and receiving feedback so frequently it becomes micromanagement also won’t cut it. Feedback can be used to build trust, hold accountability, resolve conflict, and more. Often, though, feedback processes become mundane or counterproductive.
People achieve high performance only if they know the truth about their effectiveness.
Leaders often ignore this need and thereby rob people of the key to their future. While tough feedback can be painful, great leaders know how to deliver this pain in a way that transforms it into gain to such an extent that they say “thank you — give me more!” Talented people — those who want to learn — would rather be slapped in the face with the truth than kissed on the cheek with a lie. Develop your ability to convey hard truths about performance and unlock the door to higher performance.
Keeping team members motivated is an ongoing struggle for some leaders, and those leaders probably aren’t using feedback effectively.
Employees who are made to grind away day after day without receiving feedback can begin to feel alienated and unimportant. As a result, their motivation tends to disappear, which leads to reduced productivity and the overall quality of work. Leaders who practice giving feedback on a regular basis notice that their employees are more motivated. They understand the importance of their work, and they know their superiors care about what they are doing. Motivated employees are not only more productive, they are also much happier and engaged.
Another mistake many leaders make is to “save up” problems and then lay them all out at once.
Unfortunately, laundry lists of items get forgotten. Employees can also feel like they can’t do anything right or that you don’t value them. Stay focused on the big picture and only work on one or two things at a time. Be clear about what the feedback is, what you expect to happen as a result of the conversation and provide a timeline for results and review. If there is a problem, make sure you address it directly. It’s too easy to soften the message to avoid conflict. When something needs corrected, you need to be clear about your expectations.
Pitfall #4: Not Delegating
This pitfall happens when we feel we can do things better or faster than other people…or maybe we don’t feel we have the time to teach them. Or maybe we just really enjoy doing them and hate to let go of the task or responsibility.
Often this pitfall comes from a good place — wanting to help an underachieving team member, for example — but its consequences are dire.
Team members don’t get the opportunity to grow and develop, and the organization or team’s capacity to achieve and grow is forever limited by one person’s throughput. The answer is taking a critical look at the things we’re doing. What represents the highest and best use of our time, and what tasks should really be handed off to other people? What truly makes impact and speaks to our individual purpose? What tasks and responsibilities represent opportunities for others to grow?
For most people, becoming a leader means getting to tell other people what to do.
They see their role as being the person who has an answer to every question. If anything, they want more people asking them how to do things because it proves how much they know. They want assurance that they’re the one who is always right, and that everyone else is reliant upon their knowledge and wisdom. Real leaders would rather spend their time building teams they trust to handle things on their own. They don’t like having to answer every single question that pops up. If they do end up fielding a deluge of questions, they recognize that they haven’t built a strong enough team.
Successful delegators know when to cheerlead, coach, step in, step back, adjust expectations, make themselves available, and celebrate successes.
Delegating well helps leaders maximize their resources, ensuring that they’re focusing on their highest priorities, developing their team members, and creating a culture where delegation isn’t just expected — it’s embedded in the culture. Effective leaders tolerate risks and mistakes, and use them as learning opportunities, rather than as proof that they shouldn’t have delegated in the first place.
Most employees feel gratified when tasks are delegated to them.
It is a sign that management has faith in their abilities. It gives them the opportunity to learn a new job and, or skill. There is also the possibility of higher earnings. Besides, skills learned through delegation help employees grow and remain productive members of staff. As technology, processes and working methods change, it imperative that staff have the skills to embrace change.
Pitfall #5: Leading With Fear
When you boil down everything a leader can do to succeed with a team, you end up with one word: influence. Exceptional leaders influence decisions, enthusiasm, actions, possibilities, confidence, beliefs, direction, and culture. Influence is what an exceptional leader does, and it shows up in myriad ways. The tactics can and will change; the definition will not.
If you want to foster trust, hop off the autocratic high-horse and stop instilling fear in the hearts and minds of people.
This means allowing freedom for others to experiment, lead themselves, stretch, and make mistakes. This will unleash discretionary effort and your team will produce great results. When leadership is less about control and more about encouraging autonomy and collective wisdom, things happen. Let me rephrase that: Business growth happens!
The inverse of leading by fear is leading by respect.
Although the two methods may look similar, and both can have powerful impacts on your business, they yield vastly different results. The two leadership styles of Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi come to mind. Both men were powerful leaders. Yet the former instilled fear in his men while the latter empowered with respect.
Fear-based leadership isn’t true leadership.
This is a style that occurs as dominating others, bossing people around and barking orders, seeing their constituents as commodities they can use for their purposes. True leaders don’t seek petty recognition or external validation. They don’t use threats as a management tool. Real leadership empowers the people around them, with passion, purpose, and leading by example. It can be a small change in style with a massive shift in outcome.
Most people who step into leadership roles end up treating people the same way they were treated — usually, not very well.
Real leaders, however, reflect often on the ways they were led. They think about which tactics worked to motivate them and which tactics fell short, and then choose how they want to lead those around them based on their own experiences. They don’t just treat people the same way they were treated in a previous environment. They work hard to create their own leadership system, refining it over time to yield the best results and bring out the most in people.
Fear-based leadership turns employees’ attention inward instead of outward.
Staff members who are led by fear go into survival mode. They are no longer interested in the company’s outcome, the quality of the product or service, or the customer experience. Instead, they’re concerned with keeping their jobs and not stepping on toes. This can create an organizational shift in focus elsewhere from implementation of the strategy or the care of the customer, and a business that doesn’t focus on the main things, just doesn’t last.
Though there is no perfect formula for becoming a respected leader, there are definitely practices you should avoid. The most successful leaders strive to develop a positive management style while avoiding negative leadership characteristics.
Leading teams requires more than understanding the mission and capabilities of the organization.
From time to time, we all get sage advice on the things good leaders should do or characteristics you should have. Sometimes we are even afforded opportunities to attend formalized leadership development courses and programs to help learn effective leadership. But eventually, we come to the list of things to avoid or pitfalls that are inherently problematic.
Leadership development is an integral part of a business, and the consequences of these mentioned pitfalls can become unpredictable threats
If you want to be a good leader, you must set up a process for developing your leadership skills and implementing them effectively. It is said to be an important factor to improve and enhance the operational quality of your business organization.
Becoming a leader is challenging; becoming a great leader is even more so.
The good news is that everyone can improve by learning from mistakes and seeking the training that will help them avoid mistakes in the future. The best leaders freely admit their mistakes, and most see them as teachable moments. Indeed, one sure sign of a great leader is someone who takes the opportunity to learn and grow from errors.
Avoiding these common pitfalls will help you on your journey to becoming a great leader. Do everything you can not to repeat these common leadership mistakes.
I hope you’ve learned a few tricks for avoiding some common pitfalls of leadership, or at least enjoyed watching me poke fun at my own errors. Often we don’t learn what to do until we first learn what not to do. What other pitfalls have you seen in leadership? Share your own experience in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.