Pitfalls Every Leader Must Avoid

Here’s a great post by Scott Kerzner. You can follow Scott’s blog, In Due Season, or on Twitter. You can guest post as well! Read how to here.

Lord knows that we all make plenty of mistakes. I know I have. The trick is to learn from them, move forward and avoid repeating the same goof-ups! Additionally, learning from the missteps of others can save us a great deal of time and pain, too. So in that spirit, here is the list of some of the mistakes I made as a leader, so you can learn the lessons without feeling the burn.

  • Worrying About What Others Think – A decision should always be made after discussing what everyone on the team thinks, but never made based on what the team thinks of you. Getting input from the entire team is crucial.  A team isn’t working successfully if it isn’t working towards a common goal. However, people will occasionally disagree or be unhappy with an outcome. Don’t be influenced by fear of disapproval!
  • Ignoring Disputes Among Team Members – When two people on your team have a disagreement, it needs to be addressed right away. If not, it leaves the rest of the team in an uncomfortable position. They’ll then try to avoid situations where they are around both parties at the same time. Unresolved conflict promotes division. It’s awkward for team members and customers, and reduces productivity.
  • Sanctioned Incompetence – Sanctioned incompetence is when  a leader allows a team member to operate at a lower standard than everyone else. If the problem is not corrected, it creates animosity and failure to thrive.

Can you change your personality? No. But you must work hard to fix weaknesses that will impair your leadership  or stifle the team’s success. Strong leaders improve themselves. Otherwise, they can’t improve those they lead.

As a leader, what weaknesses do you need to work on?

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57 thoughts on “Pitfalls Every Leader Must Avoid”

  1. Great post Scott!!! I dont think you want me listing my weaknesses!! We will DEFINITELY find out what the character limit is!!
    I would say the weakness I need to work on is avoiding conflict. I don’t like conflict and I avoid it whenever I can. Most times avoiding conflict is a good thing, But there are times when you’ve gotta have the tough conversations. I need to work on recognizing those times and following through!

    1. Thanks, Mark. I appreciate the comments. While I’ve done many things well as a leader, I think I could have listed enough mistakes to make this topic a regular series!

      I agree, the tough conversations can make for an uncomfortable day, but I’ve learned that if you avoid them, they will make weeks or MONTHS uncomfortable!

  2. Michael Rodgers

    I know you covered this somewhat on the EntreLeadership podcast but as an employee seeing the Sanctioned Incompetence. My supervisor/manager seems to be just gathering fodder and not really addressing this incompetence. This has been observed for others as well as myself. I am constantly striving for improvements but when you have little to no feed back to right or wrong; good or great; bad or worse it does make some efforts seem futile.

    1. When the actions of one team member resonate through the entire team, it needs to be resolved quickly. The notion that “if you give someone enough rope, they will hang themselves” wears down the rest of the group if the rope is too long.

  3. Thanks for the post Scott/Chris you bring up some good points that are often overlooked. “Strong leaders improve themselves. Otherwise they can’t improve those they lead.” Love that!

  4. Wow, great post Skottydog! I think I need to work on not worrying what others think. As a people pleaser and an emotional person, I worry too much about the feelings of others. I need to realize that I do care, but while I’m presenting or making a decision, I have already taken that into consideration and that I can follow up on the choices I have made later.

  5. Great post. I agree completely. The sanctioned incompetence is one I see a lot. More leaders need to understand the importance of not allowing that to happen on their team. Thanks for this post!

  6. I think my weaknesses are well documented elsewhere here 🙂

    As mentioned somewhere on here, the strategy that worked/is working for me to overcome my weaknesses was to tackle them carefully, one at a time. It was/is a discipline to not try to fix all of them in 3 weeks, but to focus on only one each month or longer.

    The good news is that when you fix just one and really fix it well, people already see the change and it buys you time to fix the others.

  7. Really good post, Scott – and yes, hits home. I struggle with conflict resolution also – it is tough to have those conversations, but they just get harder the longer you wait – and then you look ineffective as a leader because you let things go badly so long.

    You didn’t list this one, but something else I struggle with is recognizing people when they do things right – I’m trying to be more intentional about writing thank you cards and telling people they are doing a great job. Shouldn’t have to think so hard about it, but maybe after time it will become more routine.

  8. I think a challenge is remembering leadership is not positional. You can lead from ANY position, as an example and through your actions. You don’t need a title to take the lead and set the tone for those around you.

  9. Kathleen, Kat or Cass

    I think a challenge is remembering leadership is not positional. You can lead from ANY position, as an example and through your actions. You don’t need a title to take the lead and set the tone for those around you.

      1. @MattMcWilliams2 @ChrisLoCurto Very true Matt, it HAS to be because of global warming…Polar Bears are losing their habitat…bloggers are losing there comments…will you donate today to stop this man made tradegy??

    1.  @ChrisLoCurto Yup. Blame the tools. It’s what I do in the workshop all the time. And those wrong notes during worship? It’s not me, it’s the reed on my sax….

      1. Is this the section where we all talk about honesty and transparency in leadership? I have facilitated two FPU classes and still haven’t completed a solid budget. ha ha

  10. Happily, I still had the screen with my comment up so it was easy to copy and paste!
     
    Really good post, Scott – and yes, hits home. I struggle with conflict resolution also – it is tough to have those conversations, but they just get harder the longer you wait – and then you look ineffective as a leader because you let things go badly so long.
     
    You didn’t list this one, but something else I struggle with is recognizing people when they do things right – I’m trying to be more intentional about writing thank you cards and telling people they are doing a great job. Shouldn’t have to think so hard about it, but maybe after time it will become more routine.

    1.  @CarolDublin Thanks, Carol.  I am also a big fan of positive reinforcement.   With my staff, aside from a pat on the back, usually reward came in the form of pizza!   

  11. I like the bit about sanctioned incompetence. I’ve seen companies drift slowly into that one and it can be insidious.
     
    “Bob’s not performing.”
     
    “Oh, he’s the new guy, so let’s cut him some slack.”
     
    “That’s all well and good, Charlie, but Bob’s been the new guy now for three years.”
     
    At some point, you have to come up to speed. The merge lane doesn’t go on forever, you know.
     
    And I’ve most recently seen a leader spent waaaaaay too much time saying to folks, “I’d have made that decision sooner/better/most decisively/communicated it better but I knew you all wouldn’t like me for it.” Sadly, we end up not liking you most of all for worrying so much about what we all think instead of what’s best for the team!
     
    Excellent post, Scott.

    1.  @Bret Do we tend to cut slack based on our fears that we have not mentored properly and its our fault? We have to be big enough to bite the bullet and admit if the shortcomings were due to our lack of competence in mentoring as well as if the person is cut from the wrong cloth for your coat. 

      1.  @Kathleen In the cases I’ve seen, we start out with an understanding that there’s at least a bit of a learning curve, as new staffers come in and need to learn the environment, the peculiarities of how to work with our company(ies) and get up to speed technically. But that should only take, depending on how well we hire, a few days to a few weeks. I’m aware of a recent case where after a full 14 months, the employee was still “learning” the job.
         
        Then you have to fight those who think that everyone should be self-motivated against those who think the company should be doing everything it can to make that individual successful, when an honest appraisal is that no one in the situation was really happy. Cutting this person loose let him pursue a position that would fit him much better and freed up resources to find a better fit for the company too. Far from being heartless, it was the kindest thing all around. Maybe even the most loving. 

      2.  @Kathleen Admitting WHY the team member is falling short is key, even if it means that you as a leader had a role in the shortcoming.  That is all too true, Kathleen.

    2.  @Bret Love the dialogue Bret 🙂 Got a kick out of the last one.
       
      I’ve learned that cutting people slack is always wrong…because cutting people slack is code for “do nothing about it.”
       
      If their failure is my fault, I don’t cut them slack, I train them.
       
      If their failure is due to incompetence, I either find a better fit or have to fire them.
       
      If their failure is due to a personal tragedy, I don’t cut them slack (do nothing), I do my best to comfort them and take the necessary steps to get them help, give them time off, or motivate them.

      1.  @MattMcWilliams2  @Bret Awesome! I think I was just trying to say it takes courage and trust in our selves,and in our process to face when we fail at either the hiring process or the training process. So I agree with you both whole heartedly! 

    3.  @Bret “He’s been the new guy for 3 years!”  To quote Chris on this one…”BAH!”   Awesome comments, Bret!    
       
      I referenced ‘Sanctioned Incompetence’ from Dave’s Entreleadership book, and he referenced it from John Maxwell.  
       
      But since reading about that term nearly a year ago, it’s startling just how many companies are all too familiar with its concept.  Mostly because they didn’t realize it was occurring.   Kind of like the frog in the boiling water thing.

  12. Great post! I think i need to work on worrying what others think. I am a people pleaser and I don’t want to be insensitive. But now I am realizing its not that I am ignoring anyone…more so I am encouraging and supporting others by helping them move forward versus bossing them around. 

    1.  @unknownjim Being a people pleaser was how I realized I was making decisions early on in my 3 years as supervisor.  It took me about 4 months to discover that it was the wrong way to do things.  Was it Abe Lincoln that said “You can please some people some of the time…”?    Actually, maybe it was Bob Marley.  (‘Get Up, Stand Up’)  lol.
       
      Thanks, Jim!

  13. One mistake is remembering Leading is not positional. You don’t need a title to be a leader, or to lead. You need to set the tone as an example through your actions and words.   Its the quiet flow around you that is influenced by your steadfastness to the core values you want to enliven. 

    1.  @Kathleen I’ve often said a sign of a good leaders is when they are not there, and the team performs just as well.  That, however, can be a little dangerous, too!  You don’t want to set the tone that you NEVER have to be there to have things run smoothly!  ha ha

    2. Nice words Kathleen, thanks!!  It’s amazing how people gravitate toward you just because you are a good person.  Slowly management sees you with followers and hopefully makes you an “official” leader.

  14. I said it earlier before @ChrisLoCurto  broke everything and then blamed it on livefyre. 
     
    My weaknesses are well documented elsewhere on the blog. I found that for me I had to work on one weakness at a time, for at least a month.
     
    First I had to have others tell me my weaknesses. That part sucked worse than realizing that a Hot Pocket was all you have for dinner. Then I had to actually acknowledge that these people weren’t all idiots and when 4 out of 5 dentists agree that I had a problem with putting others down, I did.
     
    Then I made a list of them…and ordered them by
     
    1. How important they were to my success as a leader
    2. How bad I was at it (based on the feedback)
    3. How easy they were for me to fix. Kind of like the debt snowball…the Weakness Snowball. I wanted to fix something fast. I wanted to succeed at my first fix.
     
    Interestingly I learned over time that my leadership weaknesses were personality weaknesses. They applied to every aspect of life. (Wow, that’s tweetable) They were relational weaknesses, spiritual weaknesses, spousal weaknesses, parental weaknesses. 
     
    Here is what my list looked like (copied from my notes):
     
    1. Leading by example in my arriving to work early and staying until the job was done. I sucked at this. I showed up when I wanted to and left when I wanted to. The problem was this was setting a horrible example.
    2. Humility. I truly thought everyone else’s ideas sucked and mine were awesome. I shot others down quickly and treated my own ideas like I had just come down from the mountain with stone tablets.
    3. Active encouragement. Finding the good stuff and actively rewarding it.
    4. Controlling emotions, particularly anger.
    5. Being positive. Generally speaking I am not fun to be around and am really negative. Still working on this one. 
    6. Being available and open / Being transparent. I had developed a closed door policy essentially. I had to actively make myself more available.
    7. Holding people accountable. This had to come last because I had to be in a positive position to do this.
     
    #1 was the easiest one to do. It simply involved getting my butt to work earlier and staying until at least 5:00. I did not need to read a book to learn this. Nor did I particularly need to change my lifestyle. Instead of checking email in the morning from home, I took a shower. Instead of working out for 90 minutes first thing in the morning, I worked out for 45 and then lifted weights at night.
     
    I was super strict on this for one month even when it hurt.
     
    After 3 months I was working the right hours (which made #6 really easy…kind of easier to be available when you are…you know…available), I became more humble. I listened better and took 5 minutes a day to encourage others and show kindness to them. Already things were changing and the results were proof.
     
    #4 was super hard for me but I fought through it. I am still working on that but I was at least 50% better within 2 months.
     
    By the end of a year, I read the reviews and realized that I had succeeded in 6/7 areas. I still struggle(d) with #7, holding people accountable.
     
    That is what worked for me. You might do it differently…but the key is to find a way that works for you and do it.

    1.  @MattMcWilliams2  @ChrisLoCurto Wow!  That is colossal progress, and incredible transparency on your part Matt.  Thank you so much for sharing that.
       
      I love your point on how you can fix what’s wrong in your leadership much in much the same way as the debt snowball.  Nice.

    2. @MattMcWilliams2 @ChrisLoCurto That’s an awesome plan to work on any weaknesses…and youre soo right leadership weaknesses more than likely show up away from the office as well!! Props for the determination to change!

  15. Unbelievable. I know that must have been hard to hear and hard to accept. But kudos for being so upfront and for working so hard. I’m impressed. Hadn’t thought about the connection in work/life struggles, but I guess it’s true if I think about it. And love the analogy of the snowball – amazing. Great job!

  16.  @MattMcWilliams2 @Bret Great points. Definitely need to avoid the “do nothing” path. It’s sometimes hard to identify the problem, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to figure it out and get them trained, in a different seat on the bus, or off the bus entirely!

  17. Impatience, impatience, impatience.  And thinking my team can read my mind.  I tend to think faster than I can write – and many times I don’t give full instructions – they proceed and it is not exactly as I wanted – but my fault. I am working on this – slow down and explain it fully!

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