7 of the Most Dangerous Leadership Mindsets I’ve Observed

Businessman Slipping on Wet Floor

I’ve seen it so many times.

A leader could be doing everything else right and one flawed mindset can overshadow – jeopardize all the good leadership principles we know.

One constantly repeated action. One trait. One habit. One mindset.

And, sadly, many times it’s not even the person isn’t a good leader – it’s one mindset gets them off track. And, so I believe leaders should constantly be working on bad mindsets which keep them from being as successful as they can be.

Here are 7 of the most dangerous leadership mindsets I’ve observed.

In full disclosure, I’ve been guilty of some of these – sometimes for a season – sometimes until someone helped me discover I had a poor leadership mindset.

Allowing small details to overwhelm a view of the big picture.

There will always be details, which have to be handled, but the smaller a leader is forced to think, the less he or she can focus on the larger vision ahead. I can get bogged down in minutia which wastes my energy and drains me. Sometimes it’s a systems problem that requires too much of my time and sometimes its a failure to delegate. Interestingly, I have personally found, when I’m free from the responsibility of handling as many details, I’m more likely to notice the smaller things which greatly need my attention.

Seeing the glass as half-empty.

A negative leader will almost never be successful long-term, simply because people will not care to follow. Some people have this mindset all the time (and I don’t personally think leadership is their thing), but this mindset can also last for a season – especially when there are numerous setbacks around us either in our personal life or where we lead. It could also occur in times of fast change, when the complainers seem to outnumber those offering compliments. If we aren’t careful – we can let negative mindsets carry over into every other area of our life – and start to view our world this way. It’s very difficult to follow a negative-minded leader.

Not enjoying the journey.

Never taking time to celebrate will eventually derail good leadership. High achieving leaders can often fall into this trap. I get there at times and have to be reminded – either through personal discipline or when others speak into my life. I’m always seeing the next big opportunity ahead and striving for constant improvement. I can fail to recognize current success while continually searching for future potential. The problem is a constant forward push isn’t sustainable long-term. It burns people out, makes them feel under appreciated, and leads to a very low team morale. People need a break – they need a plateau where they can rest, catch their breath and celebrate the victory already achieved.

Expecting more from others than you’re personally willing to give.

I once worked with a leader who had high expectations for everyone – not only in quality of work, but also in how many hours they should be working. The problem was this leader didn’t appear to have high expectations for himself. He would work just enough to bark out a few orders, but then he was gone. And, because he was mostly an absentee leader, even if he was working when he wasn’t around (and I personally knew he was often working out of the office), no one believed he was. He created a perception of laziness. It was frustrating for everyone trying to follow. They felt used. People following a leader with this mindset mostly stay for a paycheck.

Assuming all the credit.

And, this is especially true if the leader’s mindset thinks he or she deserves it. There is no success on a team without the efforts of others. When a leader takes all the accolades or rewards for himself, the team becomes employees of a boss rather than followers of a leader. Work becomes a job, not a career. It could be simply in the language of the leader. If “I” did it – if it was all because of “me” – “they” may soon, even if in only in their motivation – let “me” do it on my own. Shared success is paramount for a leader’s long-term success.

Never shutting down.

You can’t do it. You can’t. You may think you can always be on – do everything – be everywhere – but, you can’t. Superman couldn’t. Jesus didn’t. Don’t try. (Someone reading this still thinks they can – okay – you’ve been warned.) And, I have to be honest, this is one of the hardest ones for me. It usually comes when I don’t discipline myself to say no, worry too much what people think – especially the ones who expect me to be everywhere or think I should know everything which happens in our church. Thankfully, I’ve matured enough I won’t let the season go long without an intentional shut-down. (And, for me, this usually involves me getting out of town. As a potential workaholic, there’s always something to do as long as I’m here.)

Isolating yourself from others.

The mindset which thinks a leader can’t let others too close to them is one of the most dangerous I’ve observed. Leadership can be a lonely job. But, it shouldn’t be the job of a loner. We need people. We need accountability. We need community and those who can speak into the dark places of our hearts and lives. And, I’ve seen with so many leadership failures – even with so many pastors. When we become islands to ourselves we are an invitation for the enemy’s attacks.

Those are a few dangerous leadership mindsets I’ve observed. Any you’d care to add?

Silence Can Be Deadly!

Especially when people are involved.

Mouth covered with tape

You’ve heard silence is golden – and it’s true. One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 5:2. “God is in heaven and you are on earth. Let your words be few.”. James tells us to guard the tongue. I often get in less trouble when I talk less.

And, maybe this is exactly the encouragement you need from this post. Quit talking long enough to think before you speak – or before you post on Facebook! 

But, silence can also be deadly.

Especially in a team environment, in an organizational structure, or in a relational setting – anywhere people are closely involved with other people – silence can be a curse. When working on a project, implementing change, planning for the future – silence can kill you!

The point of this post is simply to remind you – people only know what they know. They often won’t know what they need to know unless you tell them.

In the process of leading people, keep people updated with what you know. Even if you don’t have all the answers, let them have the answers you do have.

When people don’t have information, they tend to invent their own scenarios.

Silence fuels rumors. They make up stories. They stretch and fabricate what the little they do know. Fear, tension, and frustrations rise. Even those who were once fully invested often become discouraged. Morale is injured and enthusiasm wanes.

And, all of these mostly emotionally-driven reactions are fueled by the unknown – by silence.

In my experience, people will be more patient if they receive adequate communication while they wait for the final details. Of course, the main thing people need to know is the why behind what you are doing – and you must keep reminding the – but they also want details of progress along the way. If you want to keep progress moving forward – break the silence and share information. Keep people informed. Communicate!

Have you experienced the pain of silence in a team, organizational, or relationship setting?

5 Ways to Increase Productivity

Hint: They involve you!

Coworkers discussing a file

I see part of my role as a senior leader as a developer of other leaders. In church terms, as much as I am called to make disciples, I am called to disciple disciple-makers.

I take this role seriously. I am consistently thinking how I can encourage people around me to be better at what they do. Several years ago, with another staff, someone who once worked with me mentioned my intentionality in developing leaders on his blog. (Read his post HERE.) Thanks, Adam – miss you, buddy!

Here’s my theory on the subject.

Many leaders limit their capacity as a leader, because they try to do too much on their own. Rather than develop people, they control people. Rather than growing the organization, they only grow their personal workload. In the end, under this type scenario, everyone loses. The leader burns out, potential leaders are never developed, and the organization fails to be all it could be.

If you want to increase productivity as a leader, you have to think bigger than what you can do. In fact, I would say, you have to change your title roles.

To increase productivity and get better as a leader:

Change from being a manager of people to being a leader of people.

Don’t just manage current systems. Lead people to greater realities than they can imagine today. Don’t rule by policies. Free people to explore, create, and imagine. (And, in turn perhaps even make a ton of mistakes.)

Change from being a doer of tasks to being an encourager of doers.

Make it your ambition to encourage people everyday. Be a people builder. I find my best energies are spent away from my desk and in the halls or other offices. When I invest in others everything grows around me.

Change from being a list keeper to being a chief supporter of list keepers.

I love lists! I live by them. But, you can’t be a great senior leader and only manage your own. This would be the easy way – but the least productive way. Instead, you should help people develop their own lists – their dreams – the things they want to accomplish. Encourage. Empower. Celebrate.

Change from completer of tasks to being an investor in people who complete tasks.

Again, my best time is away from my desk. Like anyone I can get very tied to my desk, my email, and my own tasks. I have learned I can spend a little more time investing in people and the results return exponentially.

Change from being an implementer to being an enabler for people to implement.

The less “hands on” I am the more our team seems to get done. When I try to help I often get in the way. This doesn’t mean I do nothing. I often take orders from people on our team as to what I should do. It does mean, though, I try very hard not to get in their way.

These are not a play on words. They are intended to be a change in perspective. And, again, please understand, these are also not an excuse to do nothing. The attempt is working smarter. It’s making an intentional decision to develop others.

It boils down to believing in the purpose and power of delegating, learning how to delegate properly, and actually letting go. For more on delegating, see HERE and the related posts.

If you are struggling to complete all required of you as a leader, in my experience, it will almost always have more to do with how well you do in this area of your leadership. And, for those who are wondering, this is regardless of whether your team is paid or volunteer.

The Unwritten Rules

The real rules...

Smart nerd teacher substitute lecturing class with text book in classroom space for print

The unwritten rules – are the real rules.

In an organization, what is passed down, maintained over the years, repeated the most – become a part of tradition. This is the way people do things – the way decisions are made – the way people respond to leadership and potential.

This is what is real.

This is the DNA of the organization.

People may not even realize they are what they are. They may have never been written down, voted on or “put in the minutes”, but they are assumed true by the majority of people.

They are considered law. These are the rules people will defend and protect the most. They’ll fight to keep them from being changed or bended.

If you are a new leader or a veteran, understanding this principle will increase your effectiveness.

When we entered an established church I realized quickly there were some things I didn’t need to attempt to change the first couple years – or if we did these unwritten rules would alter how we approached, introduced or implemented change. There were ingrained cultural understandings I needed to know. 

How do you know the unwritten rules? First, be aware they exist in every organization. Second, ask good questions of people who have been there longer than you. Third, you’ll discover them mostly as you approach any kind of change which goes against one of them – by experience. (Which is why you don’t build change in a vacuum. You collaborate with others.)  

Trust me in this. You may be a genuius with creating new and exciting ideas, but first you must understand this principle. Learn the unwritten rules first.

Freedom Passes – The New Math of Leadership

Student studying math on the blackboard full of formulas

When I was in school I had a love-hate relationship with math.

I loved doing math – working to find an answer to a problem. In fact, I was pretty good at it. I even served on the math team for a while.

But I hated having to solve the problem with the teacher’s methods.

On tests I would do poorly if the teacher made us show our work. I could get the right answers, but I wanted to use my own methods. The years I was on the math team and did best were when I had teachers who allowed me the freedom to find answers my way.

I realize the teacher needed to make sure I wasn’t cheating and I knew how to think through a specified process, but I wanted to invent my own process.

I think there is a leadership principle here. I have seen it so many times. 

If you want to empower people – give them a freedom pass.

In fact, if your team is currently stalled – maybe you need to hand out some freedom passes.

What’s a freedom pass? It is giving your people the freedom to complete their assignments in the way which works best for them. 

Successful leaders understand organizational success involves letting people figure out their own way. If you want team members to be energized towards progress they must be empowered to develop their own strategies for attaining the goals and objectives.

You still hold team members accountable for progress, but you allow them freedom to choose the process of completion. In practical terms this could be the hours they choose to work, where they do their work, and often who they include on their individual team. 

When you allow people to script the “how” they are more motivated to complete the “what”. People need space to create. They need to have input into the process of completing the vision of the team or organization.

Give people a Freedom Pass. It’s the new math of leadership. 

The Way a Leader is Expected to Respond – Determines the Response They Receive


The way others expect you to respond often determines the way they respond to you.

Have you learned this valuable principle about your leadership?

For example:

If they expect you to respond in anger – they’ll dance around issues – never confronting them with you or bringing them to your attention.

You will seldom know the true health of your team or what others are thinking.

If they expect you to respond defensively or with a closed-mind to every new idea which doesn’t come from you – they’ll only respond to your ideas – refusing to take risks of their own.

You’ll be limited to how creative you are, but you’ll leave some of the best new ideas untapped and off the table.

If they expect you to respond with condemnation – they’ll be tempted to make excuses when things go wrong – and maybe try to hide them altogether.

You will be considered unsafe and treated as unapproachable.

If they expect you to respond with belittling or sarcasm – they’ll never be serious with you – you’ll never know their true feelings – afraid you’ll crush them if they do.

You will never really know people. They will only know you. And, they will be very surface-level with you relationally.

If they expect you to respond with the final say to every decision – they’ll soon stop having new ideas. They’ll wait before moving forward on anything new.

You’ll get to run every meeting and feel very much in control, but your team isn’t really a team they are employees. And, most likely very unfulfilled and under-utilized.

Insert your own examples. The way a leader is expected to respond, built over time by experience, determines the way people respond to the leader. Every time.

However, the contrast is true:

If they expect you to respond supportively – they’ll be more likely to offer their opinions.

You’ll hear the best they have to offer. You’ll encourage creativity and dreaming.

If they expect you to respond with care and understanding – they’ll be more likely to share their heart, their pain, their life with you.

You’ll truly know people and you will be able to lead more relationally than strictly because of your position.

If they expect you to respond with empowerment – they’ll be more likely to take risks and try something new.

You’ll get the best from people. They will feel more a part of a team. And, great things have a better potential to happen.

If they expect you to respond with grace – they’ll be more likely to share the good, the bad and the ugly.

You’ll know when they failed and they’ll come to you for help to improve.

If they expect you to respond with a listening ear – they’ll come to you when they need to bounce ideas – before they have all the answers.

You’ll become part of their development, helping them improve individually as they attempt to help improve the team.

Leaders, how do others expect you to respond?

There are so many other scenarios I could have offered. You have some of your own no doubt.

Think about it – do you not tend to alter your response based on how you expect others to respond? Is this not true in family and friend relationships also? It certainly is in leadership.

Fair or not – as a leader, the response others expect from you may help determine the way others respond to you. Their response will be how we have conditioned them to respond to us, based on past experience of how we have responded to them.

More importantly, however, is ultimately our response to people in a great way determine the health of the team or organization.

5 Mature Ways for a Leader to Respond Under Stress

Money Worries

Every organization and team has times where everyone is stretched, stress abounds, and even times where it seems things are going backwards for a while. It could be a crisis or an exceptionally busy season. It could be internal or external issues causing the stressful times. During these seasons good leadership is more critical than ever.

Mature leaders know the way they respond in stress will directly impact the organization and everyone attempting to follow them.

Here are 5 mature ways for a leader to respond during stressful times:

A level head

A leader must display a calmness in the midst of crisis. If the leader panics everyone panics. Trying times test a team and the leader doesn’t needs to add a calmness to the situation, helping assure people everything will be okay. This does not mean giving a false hope. People should understand reality, but it does mean helping people find their sense of balance in the midst of what may seem hopeless in their minds.


There will always be temptations to give up under stress. A leader walks by faith and keeps the team moving forward. You can read the hard lesson I learned about this issue in my post of advice to the leader when things are going wrong. Through good times and the bad times the leader must stand firm.


Character is tested during stressful times. A leader must remain unquestioned in his or her integrity for the health of the team and organization. People will watch to see how a leader responds. What a leader says or does will be taken seriously and subject to people’s own interpretations. This is why we must strive to be above reproach.


Decisions are harder to make but more important during stressful times. The leader must think strategically for the organization – helping to steer towards clarity and progress. (Read a post about thinking strategically in the moment HERE)

Personal well-being

Leaders must remain healthy personally in order to continue to lead the organization. There will be a tendency to never leave the office, but during times of stress, the leader must continue to exercise, eat well, and be disciplined in rest. The leader must guard his or hear heart spiritually, knowing temptation is especially powerful under duress. The health of the leader directly impacts the health of the team.

Leader, have you ever had to lead during especially stressful times? Are you there now?

What would you add to my list?

12 Tweetable Leadership Principles

follow leader

Here are 12 random leadership axioms in less than 140 characters each.

  • Some people will only support change after it’s proven to be a success. They are the same people who will say I told you so if it doesn’t work.
  • Sometimes the strongest thing to do is to turn the other cheek. Sometimes it is to stand your ground.
  • Solicited applause is seldom given genuinely.
  • The best opportunities seldom come wrapped neatly in a package with a bow on top. They usually come with work. Get your hands dirty work.
  • The best leaders are often the ones smart enough to get out of the way of smarter people.
  • Part of leadership is the willingness to make hard decisions no one else on the team wants to make.
  • Change always invokes an emotion. The best change agents recognize and respond accordingly.
  • The leader has a responsibility to do the right thing for the organization, regardless of whether it brings instant popularity.
  • The more you say “I” the less your team will feel a part of “we”.
  • Some of a leader’s best work is not what the leader does but what he or she inspires others to do.
  • Without the right systems in place, the best visions will eventually suffer. Systematize what you want and need repeated.
  • One of the most important disciplines of a leader is the discipline of rest.

Feel free to tweet a few.

10 Common Complaints about Leaders

Complaint Concept on Red Puzzle.

As a result of this blog, I receive emails regularly from staff members of other churches or non-profit organizations. There is usually a question they have about leadership, but along with the question often comes a complaint about their leader. And there are many.

I’ve been in a leadership position for near 30 years so I know complaints are common in leadership. If you’re in leadership you will receive complaints – about the organization you lead, the people in it, and about you. Period.

And, let’s be fair – some of them are valid. Some of them are not, but some are, because leaders aren’t perfect. None of them. Definitely including this one. There is validity in many of the complaints we receive.

I once decided I would compile a list of some of the most common complaints I hear. After grouping them together for brevity, I  went with the top 10 most repeated.

Why is this important? It’s not to lump more hot coal on a burdened leader. I love leaders. Investing in them is part of my calling. But, I also have a conviction. I believe I am less likely to improve where I don’t know I need to improve. Compiling this list became an awareness exercise for me as much as anything.

Here are 10 common complaints about leaders:

Controlling – All the decisions are decided and announced. No one gets to provide input. The final decision must come from the leader.

Defensive – The leader challenges every challenge. You can’t talk to him or her about a problem. They refuse to be wrong or admit anything is wrong. (As if we can refuse to be wrong, right?)

Stuck – Some leaders love routines and structure so much they never attempt to move things forward until they are forced into change. They are always playing defense – never offense.

Fearful – Whether because of people pleasing or lack of faith, the leader suffers from risk aversion to the point of crippling the team.

Lazy – It’s not do as I do – it’s do as I say – because I’m not going to do anything.

Unpredictable – There’s never a dull moment, but not in a fun kind of way. The leader is inconsistent and causes people to always be on edge.

Never satisfied – It doesn’t matter how large the win, instead of lingering in celebration, this leader is always asking “What’s next?”

Unclear – When they give direction or cast a vision it’s never understood by the one supposed to implement. Confusion leads to frustration.

Prideful – They take all the glory. Enough said.

Indecisive – These leaders can’t make a decision. And everyone waits. And waits. And everything stalls.

Distracted – Sometimes leaders appear so busy those trying to follow don’t believe they ever have their full attention.

Phony – This leader’s personal life, and the one seen by those closest to the leader, doesn’t match the public persona the leader displays.

There is the list. I think it could be good for all leaders to read through them – and ask some tough questions of yourself. Which of these would be most said about you?

You may be wondering, if you were to hear from someone on our team – which of these would be complaints about my leadership? Probably many of them at different times. If I had to guess, however, they would probably point to three intially.

Never satisfied, unclear and distracted.

Often, though I have no problem making decisions, I can easily get locked into minutia if presented with too many options and appear indecisive.

I am aware of these areas and continually attempt to address them in my leadership, but it is an ongoing process.

Now, on behalf of leaders, as a word to those trying to follow, let me say many times the leader is totally unaware they are perceived in these negative ways. And, most, if they knew, would make some attempts to improve in that area of their leadership.

Leaders, the word for us is we must continually work to become more aware of what is being preceived which often isn’t being spoken. It might not even be reality, but perceived reality is often just as damaging. (Some of the complaints I listed about me would fall into the perception category – not the reality. But, perception is someone else’s reality.)

If you are uncertain, the best thing to do is ask. Hand this list to some on your team and ask them to identify one or two they think you could work to improve. You’re not asking them to complain – just to give you honest, helpful feedback.

So, leader, be honest, which of these would most likely be the complaints said about you?

Sometimes It’s Not a Systems Problem – Identifying the Real Issue

Full body isolated portrait of young business man

In one of my first vocational leadership roles, I managed a large retail division of a major department store. The division had several departments within it and each department had a separate department manager. Most of the departments were efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. One department, however, continued to fall behind the others. It was frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to get them to improve.

I was young and inexperienced, so I innocently thought the problem was me. If I could implement the right strategy in working with this department – find the right system – I could improve performance. I tested numerous systems to try to increase their productivity, but nothing seemed to work.

I was wrong in my assessment and the experience taught me a valuable lesson. 

You can have the best systems – the best strategies – the best programs – and still struggle with the performance of a team.

Sometimes it’s not a systems problem.

Sometimes it’s strictly a people problem.

I realized the problem was the leader in this department. This person always said what I wanted to hear. She was nice to me personally. She talked a good game, but she was grossly under-performing and bringing her department down with her. Through due process, and after months of trying to coach and encourage this leader to improve, I eventually had to replace her leadership and the department dramatically improved, almost instantly.

Since then I’ve always tried to remember to never try to handle a people problem with a systems approach.

Handle people problems, with people.

This doesn’t mean you’ll always need to replace the people, but you seldom improve people problems with better systems. You improve people problems by improving people.

Many times, in my experience, we try to create systems when the problem isn’t a systems problem, it’s a people problem.

Churches are notorious for this, by the way. We try to solve problems in people’s lives, for example, by creating rules, systems, programs, etc, designed to help make them better people. The problem is it’s not a systems problem. It’s not a program or committee problem. It’s a people problem. If their heart doesn’t change, the problems in their life will continue.

Knowing the difference between a systems problem and a people problem, and being mature enough to handle it, will make you a better leader.

Have you seen organizations and leaders create systems, instead of handling the real problem?