7 Pitfalls of Leadership Which Can Derail a Leader

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We all know the stories of the once successful pastor or 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, both in the business world and in ministry, I’ve seen some consistent traps which get in the way of a leader’s long-term success. I call them pitfalls.

Often, also in my experience, if we know the potential dangers we have a better chance of addressing them – and, hopefully even avoiding them.

Here are 7 pitfalls of leadership:

Pride

When a leader ever feels he or she has all the answers – watch out! Pride comes before the fall. Great leaders remain humble, knowing they didn’t get where they are on their own nor will they stay there without the help of others.

Passiveness

I don’t believe in tyranny, but a leader can equally be too “nice” or overly friendly with a team. Leadership is hard some days – okay, most days. Good leadership isn’t a popularity contest. The leader afraid to challenge will create an environment where mediocrity, chaos, and unhealthy team environment prevails – and eventually it will bite them. Leaders should be willing to address known concerns, not be afraid of healthy conflict, and challenge status quo even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.

Isolation

A leader who removes his or herself too much from people doing the actual work, who aren’t visible to their team, or who don’t bond well with them never gains significant influence. Even worse, they are more vulnerable to failing personally, as well. The enemy loves busyness, but also isolation – sin festers in absence of accountability. Plus, at every level of leadership, regardless of the size organization, the more a leader can do “hands on” work, even if only occasionally, the more “in touch” the leader will be and the more respected he or she will be by the people being led.

Loneliness

Leadership is naturally lonely. Every leader I know struggles with it at some level. If it’s not addressed, however, especially during extremely high stress periods, the leader will head towards crash and burn territory. Leaders should seek out other leaders, take risks on trusting a few people, and ask for help before it’s too late.

Boredom

I have often said boredom is one of the leading causes of marital failure. It’s true in leadership also. Leadership is about going somewhere. When things get routine for too long, the best leaders will get bored – and boredom can be dangerous. Leaders who last for the long haul are always seeking new opportunities for growth and development.

Success

Just as failure can hurt a leader, so can success. If not kept in check, success can lead to complacency. A leader can begin to think it will always be this way and eventually start taking success for granted. Disaster! These leaders are soon fighting for the success “fix” again – and often make tremendous errors in the process. Great leaders are always cognizant the success today isn’t guaranteed tomorrow – so they keep working on developing themselves, their team, and the organization.

Elitism

When a leader becomes “too good” for the people trying to follow – they stop serving a team and start managing people chasing a paycheck. They quit finding willing followers and are only surrounded by employees. Leaders, especially today, have to be authentic, real, and believable. There are always people on a team who believe they could do a better job than the leader – and, the reason they feel this way is because it’s probably true in some situations where they have more expertise. Teams are developed by mutual respect and appreciation. Great leaders never see themselves better than the people they are trying to lead. In fact, the best leaders I know purposefully surround themselves with smarter people.

What other pitfalls have you seen in leadership?

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16 thoughts on “7 Pitfalls of Leadership Which Can Derail a Leader

  1. Groupthink is something that I see as a big pitfall of of church leadership. Leaders who surround themselves with people who think as they do, act as they do, support what they support. Board members for the different "organizations" somehow affiliated with the church are people who provide political support, or are appointed as "favors." Leaders really can be out of touch with what the community needs and how to address those needs…I see churches who have become too "corporate." I work in corporate America…I don't want to worship with corporate America! The American model of business is not one, I believe, we as Christians want to follow. Thank you for this great article.

  2. Love these pitfalls. (Well, actually, I don't love pitfalls. I love the way you characterized them though!)

    Isolation is one that I wouldn't have thought of and yet, once it's on the list, I see how wise its inclusion is. It's not just isolation within the organization, but also outside. In corporate life, you can isolate yourself within your own office (disaster), and you can isolate yourself within your own company. Even the leader who connects with his or her employees can still be isolated if that leader isn't at industry conferences, attending tradeshows, visiting customers and connecting via technology. In fact, that's probably more important than spending time inside. I'm not sure how that translates into the church world, but I'm sure it must.

    Thanks for the insightful post, Ron (as always).

    • Thanks Skip. It absolutely translates into the church world. Thanks for expanding my thoughts.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  3. Trust – In interactions with others, leaders begin every relationship by making a split-second choice between trusting them and mistrusting them. When leaders trust, they care about others, confront conflict together, and cooperate to solve problems.

    In mistrust mode, they operate from a win-lose perspective assessing every situation wondering if they are winning or losing. Nothing productive ever comes out of mistrust mode.
    Twitter: Michaelenichols

  4. Ron, I can certainly relate to the pitfall of boredom. Many times my job can get so routine that I get bored with the same thing, day-in and day-out. Leaders should be looking to put their skills by seeking out new opportunities such as volunteering to lead a project.