6 Leadership Traps Successful Leaders Avoid

By Barbara Jordan

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

In my work with successful leaders, I have discovered a number of leadership traps in which they get stuck in their leadership efforts.

These obstacles prevent successful leaders from motivating employees in positive ways and taking a more facilitative, collaborative approach to leadership.

Facilitative Leaders

David Conley and Paul Goldman, authors of “Facilitative Leadership: How Principals Lead without Dominating,” state that facilitative leaders tend to foster the involvement of employees at all levels.  In contrast to top-down, command-and-control leadership, facilitative leadership fosters power through others, not power over them (Dunlap and Goldman, “Power as a ‘System of Authority’ vs. Power as a ‘System of Facilitation”, 1990). It requires negotiation, collaboration, and communication skills.

Facilitative leaders actually encourage divergent, competitive views from subordinates. And they must hold a certain belief system, “a letting goes of control and an increasing belief that others can and will function independently and successfully within a common framework of expectations and accountability.” (Conley and Goldman).

The Most Common Traps to Avoid:

1. Question-Answer

Setting the expectation that you will ask questions and your employee will then answer promotes passivity in that person. This trap can get sprung inadvertently when you ask any specific questions related to filling out forms or gathering critical information. Consider having the person fill out questionnaires in advance or wait until the end of your conversation to obtain the details you need. Asking open-ended questions, letting the person talk, and using reflective listening (paraphrasing) are several ways to avoid this trap.

2. Labeling

Labels such as “lazy,” “incompetent,” or “difficult” not only destroy relationships but prevent change. There is no convincing reason to use labels. Nor is positive change dependent upon acceptance of a label. It is often best to avoid “problem” labels and refocus your attention on what’s working and what needs to change. For example, instead of labeling/attacking the person, attack the problem or issue by saying, “This is important, and I’d like to hear more about it. What is going on? What would you like to do?”

3. Premature Focus

When you persist in talking about your own view of “the problem” and the employee has different concerns, you get off track and lose touch with that individual. He/she becomes defensive and engages in a struggle in an attempt to be understood. To avoid getting detoured this way, start with the person’s concern rather than your own assessment of the problem. Later on, the person’s concern may lead to your original judgment about the situation.

4. Taking Sides

Perhaps you detect that there is a problem and begin to tell the employee how serious it is and what to do about it. In this case, you have taken sides. This may cause him/her to make an opposition “It’s no problem” argument. As you argue your view, the person may defend the other side. In this situation, you can literally talk the person out of change. For this reason, you may want to avoid taking sides.

5. Blaming

Some people show defensiveness by blaming others for their situation. Diffuse blame by explaining that determining blame is not your goal. Use reflective listening and re-framing such as, “Who is to blame is not as important as what your concerns are about the situation. Let’s talk about what we can do about this.”

6. Expert

When you give the impression that you have all the answers, you again draw employees into a passive role. In a facilitative style, you treat the employee as the expert on his/her situation, values, goals, concerns, and skills. You seek collaboration and give your employees the opportunity to explore and resolve ambivalence for themselves.

What Leadership Traps Have You Discovered

If you have ideas about leadership traps that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Barbara Jordan
Barbara Jordan
Barbara is an author, speaker, and leadership coach. Sign up to receive the ezine “Success Tips for Busy Leaders” or sign up to receive a free sample chapter of Achieve Success In Spite of Stress. Connect with her via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
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