Leaders face all kinds of challenges and demands. Our attention constantly shifts from one item to the next, with crises interrupting our schedules almost daily. As we focus on navigating challenges that come our way, we must also maneuver around several traps that can derail our leadership. Unfortunately, we’re usually so focused on mounting daily demands that it becomes difficult to see leadership traps until we’re ensnared.
It’s helpful to periodically take a step back and evaluate where we stand as leaders. But to be able to reflect on how effective we’re being as leaders, we have to acknowledge some of the traps leaders can fall into. Here are three of those traps to stay aware of.
Leadership Trap #1: Seeing Yourself as the Exception to the Rule
Entitlement. It’s one of the deadliest leadership traps there is, and it’s so easy to fall into. We can trace many great leadership collapses back to leaders feeling they were above the rules. Somewhere along the way, they began thinking the rules were good for other people, but not for them. Given their status, position, or role, they somehow felt exempted.
This trap is so dangerous because it starts in small subtle ways, not with breaking big rules. Expecting your team to show up on time to work while you show up a little late. Wanting your team to come to meetings prepared, but you coming unprepared yourself. When we begin to think the rules don’t apply to us, we fail to hold ourselves to the same standard that we hold our team to. We’re destroying our credibility and teaching our team that the rules don’t mean much.
As leaders, we set the standard for our teams and our organizations. Consistently holding ourselves accountable to the standard we expect of our people is the only way to avoid this trap.
Leadership Trap #2: Taking the Easy Path
Some leaders get comfortable and fall into the habit of coasting. They rely on past successes, their talent, or their reputation instead of the hard work required to be successful. Let’s be clear: being a successful leader requires a lot of hard work! But if we constantly avoid the hard work in exchange for the easy path, our leadership will have a short shelf life.
This trap wears many disguises. We may think we are so good on our feet that we don’t need to prepare for that meeting. We don’t establish long-term plans, so when issues arise we take shortcuts to solve it and get it off our plate. We don’t want to enter the danger of a difficult conversation, so we ignore it and hope the situation works itself out. We aren’t disciplined with our time and attention, allowing ourselves to get distracted. These distractions take away from our important, if less “urgent,” work, like strategy or employee development.
Some aspects of leading are easier than others, but difficult moments will come. We don’t reach our full leadership potential by avoiding or procrastinating the hard stuff. So, when you’re tempted to take the path of avoidance, summon the courage to take the right path, even if it’s harder.
Leadership Trap #3: Refusing to Take Responsibility for Results
Leadership is about results. That is what we’re paid to deliver. If those results don’t come, we can fall into the trap of placing blame or shifting the focus. Onto our team, the economy, “circumstances outside of our control,” or anything other than ourselves.
Let’s be honest. We all know how easy it is to fall into this leadership trap. It’s always easier to shift responsibility than accept it. No, you may not have been the one on the front line who missed the deadline, made the mistake or fallen short of the target. But you are in charge. You’re the leader, which means that ultimately you are responsible for your team’s outcomes.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean your team carries no responsibility. But as their leader, you can’t abdicate your responsibility for the results. If we do, we will continue to deliver substandard results in the future. This trap models a pattern of blame and excuses, creating a culture where no one is held accountable or responsible for their results.
Owning the results isn’t about falling on our sword when our team fails to deliver. It’s about learning from what we did and making the right adjustments so that the results improve in the future.
When your team misses a target or delivers substandard results, look back 30 or 60 days. As their leader, was there anything you could (or should) have done differently? Could you have checked in more often or communicated objectives more clearly? Could you have provided more training or devoted more resources to the project?
Be honest with yourself when evaluating a project and make the appropriate changes. This pattern of continuous learning and improvement will help you steer clear of this trap in the future.
Every leader has blind spots and weaknesses. We can overcome our weaknesses, but we must be honest with ourselves and aware of the danger of these traps. While these are three important traps to be aware of, remember that there are many more. If we’re blind to our weaknesses, we’re more likely to fail. The more aware we are of these potential dangers in our own leadership, the easier we can overcome them and reach our full potential as leaders.