leadership traps

Three traps of leadership – and how to avoid them

The typical vision of a business leader has been shaped in our heads by the likes of Lord Sugar or Donald Trump – as ego-driven, ruthless empire builders.  But too much emphasis on an individual’s ego can be seriously detrimental to a company, and once you are in a leadership position there are a variety of traps that will conspire to make you egotistical.  Here are three common traps and some ideas to avoid them:

1.    Surrounding yourself with “yes” people.

Actually this is something that happens naturally, and which you have to work to resist.  The moment you are set up as leader, those around you start to hesitate to tell you the truth.  They try to please you by telling you what they think you want to hear.  Unless you are a little cynical and very vigilant it is easy to start to believe this gilded view of life.

So how do you get to the truth?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Walk the floor yourself every day so you see what really goes on in your organisation for yourself.
  • Take time out of the workplace with a variety of staff members including juniors – get them chatting over a coffee, a pint, or play golf or whatever else suits your style.  The point is not what you are doing, it is the opportunity to hold an honest and open conversation.
  • Have a suggestions box or ideas wall where people can express their opinions freely and possibly anonymously – and act on them.
  • Value the awkward one who argues with you – they are at least being truthful!

2.    The pursuit of money and the trappings of luxury

When you have strived to create a business or be successful in your career and you do get to the top of an organisation with a nice fat salary – that is the moment to be careful.  Remember you are privileged to be in that position and that the more hearts and minds you take with you on your leadership journey the more successful you will be.  So turn your attention away from the luxuries and focus on bringing your staff up behind you.  Helping them to be high achievers will give your success longevity.

3.    Everything has got to go my way

No it doesn’t.  You may be the leader but that doesn’t give you a monopoly on good ideas.  Create an environment where other people’s ideas are not only valued but they are openly acknowledged and celebrated.  Don’t be afraid to admit you are wrong sometimes – it is a strength not a weakness to look for the best ideas in a team environment.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is quoted as saying:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

This is not the typical leadership style we think of in our society. Though by their nature, people who lead organisations in this way seldom hit the headlines. This style of leadership is all about drawing other people out.  Your job is to set the original direction and take time to inspire, manage and re-energise the team.  Then the team will help you to your success.

It is all about the team – not you.