Avoiding the 7 Pitfalls of Leadership


From time to time, we all get sage advice on the things good leaders should do or characteristics you should have. Sometimes we are even afforded opportunities to attend formalized management development courses and programs to help learn effective leadership. But eventually, we come to the list of things to avoid or “pitfalls” that are inherently problematic. Here are my top seven things good leaders should avoid.

Becoming self-serving

Being in (or remaining in) your leadership position for your own glory. Remember it was Lord John Action who said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I mentioned this in one of my earlier articles referring to people who choose leadership roles for the wrong reasons. In order to avoid this pitfall I always suggest to my students that they develop a list of “truth tellers” who are not afraid to speak up and keep them honest. Surrounding yourself with “yes” people is very problematic because they tend to only watching out for themselves. Don’t be a naked emperor!

Trying to accomplish all the goals of the organization by yourself

If you think you can accomplish everything yourself you’re crazy! As a leaders you have to be able to trust and depend upon those with whom you work. A former employer of mine had a saying, “If you have a person in your organization that is so important and that nothing can get done without them – kill them and kill them now!” That may be shocking at first to hear but think about what his meaning is. Sooner or later this lack of depth will come to haunt the organization and it usually shows up at the worst possible time. You want to deal with it on your own terms. Develop that depth in your organization now and start with yourself.

Cloning yourself

The inability to accept diversity cannot only kill your ability to lead but can kill your agency. I am not specifically talking about the usual bench marks that are associated with diversity. This has as much to do with personality, work habits, life experiences, and outside interests as it does ethnic backgrounds. As leaders we cannot afford to only surround ourselves with people who, we believe, think like we do or have the same interests or character traits. Some shared values are necessary for efficient operation of an agency like showing up on time and diligently working at their job, but others really have nothing to do with the efficient accomplishment of job tasks or organizational goals. So you like chocolate and they like strawberry… big deal! Get over it.

Assume you’re the only intelligent person in the organization

Or you believe that some people on your team are better than others. Often this goes hand in glove to the previous pitfall of cloning yourself. Involve all of your organization members in the organizational functions and avoid handing all of the projects to a select few. As tempting as it is, because these select few are deemed reliable, you might be missing the input from the other employees and their contributions. Bright people will seek places where they can feel fulfilled and do their best work. If that is not your agency they will find another.

Trying to satisfy all of the people all of the time

You cannot satisfy everyone – need I say more? Come to the realization that no matter what decision you make there is likely one person who won’t agree with it. Trying to satisfy everyone can actually morph you into being indecisive and unable to make a decision. No competent follower wants to work for that kind of leader.

Ignoring your personal and professional needs

Pay attention to your stress indicators and make sure you stay active. Physical exercise still remains one of the best countermeasures to the physiological effects of stress. Read about Dr. Henry Thompson’s research on Catastrophic Leadership FailureTM to look at the correlation between stress and decision making. Make sure you continue to develop and update your leadership skills and knowledge any chance you get. Read, research, or attend seminars to continually develop your leadership abilities. Your followers deserve to have a contemporary leader who continually strives to acquire and utilize new tools and skills.

Keeping your position forever

Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by the fear of losing your leadership position. That fear just results in keeping other people down and preventing growth opportunities. Look at your position as being “on-loan” to you. Take care of it and leave it better than you found it which means developing your followers to take your place. Finally, leave your leadership position at the right time for the right cause. The best time to move on is when the ship is upright, gracefully moving through the water with full sail, and all hands are doing their jobs. Leave a legacy that you can be proud of.

Chuck Bayne is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Earl Rice

There is also another one, that many in management fail to recognize. Know your organizations strength and weaknesses, which comes down to knowing your peoples’ strengths and weaknesses. My analogy is, don’t pick the worst shot in the entire infantry company to provide you covering fire when you go out front to lead. Exploit the strengths (ergo, pick the best shot) and work on the weaknesses. If someone is not capable of doing the job, give it to someone else who is, and have them help train the one that isn’t capable until they are. But also realize everyone has their limitations, and if they are never going to be good at the job, accept such, and move on.

I also like the self serving remark. In my governmental career (part of which was in DC), I have seen so many “ghee wiz idea” people that come up with an idea that will not be practical, push for its implementation, get it started, and then use that as a means for promotion out of the organization to the next higher grade, before it implodes upon itself. Then do the same thing in the new organization, until they get promoted 2 or 3 times past their level of competency.

Chuck Bayne

Earl, Great point regarding strengths and weaknesses. Good leaders absolutely need to know and utilize the strengths of their followers and help them in areas of improvement, if possible. You’re right on target regarding limitations too! No matter how much training is given or desire is present – sometimes they will never be the best shot. Thanks for the comments and sharing your experiences.


I took the quiz and I have Yoda leadership style. I’m not sure if I agree with that but it’s close. I particularly like the truth tellers and your point on trying tot satisfy all the people all the time. Great advice. I had to learn this the hard way.

Chuck Bayne

Hi Joyce, thanks for the comment. I think many of us have learned some of these things the hard way. I too took the quiz (I did not create it) and thought it entertaining. I was appreciative of Govloop linking my article to it. I hope at least some readers found it beneficial.

Paul L. Mifsud

The 3 types are good analogy of what you may become! To give is a leader and to take others problems and allow your people to help and devise a sure problem solving solution or give up and try another way. That’s what a great is and always be to me! What do you think?

Chuck Bayne

Hi Paul, thanks for the feedback. I think that your comment best illustrates the aspect that effective leadership means different things to different people. Effective leaders try to understand what their followers need in order to be successful. Even within a single organization that has many followers, those needs and perspectives will be different. The challenge then for the leadership is working towards understanding those needs and collectively getting everyone working towards the accomplishment of the agency mission.

Harrol Alexander

I have always been a advocate of chance in the mental health system. Because I have been thier and I chanced my way of thanking. I chose wellness and so did my wife,that fasted away in 2004 when I was working security at Camp MABRY . I am married again and that is why when I left Bluebonnet Trails I went back to school to be a Certified Professional International Coach and a IAPRC. I sent my portfolio
to the Texas State Health Department with all my Military and state Service 3 Months a go. I would Love to be on the ground floor.Also I did all this with a Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia. So if I sound proud I am because for I thought I can’t but I was wrong. The one that new better was GOD. THANK YOY LORD FOR ALL THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS for with out them I could not help others.