Eight Leadership Pitfalls to Avoid

An army officer stood before a vending machine on the military base. Rummaging through his wallet, he realized that he did not have the correct combination of coins to make his purchase. Seeing an enlisted man nearby, he asked: “Private, do you have change for this dollar bill?” The man responded cheerfully: “I think so. Let me look.” Immediately the officer bellowed: “That’s no way to address your superior, soldier! Now let’s try again. Private, do you have change for a dollar?” The private snapped to attention, saluted, and said: “No, Sir!” Weak leaders are quick to put others in their place. They are infatuated with their authority and eagerly remind others who is the boss. That officer is a sad example of poor leadership. So I’ve put arrogance at the head of the list.

1. Arrogance. Proverbs 26:12: “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who says, ‘I’m really smart’ ” (CEV).

2. Insecurity. Don’t be threatened by the successes of others, especially those on your ministry team and not the people who previously held your office. Driven by insecurity, insecure leaders micromanage their team, but the best leaders free people to do their best work. Consider the example of Moses who served as God’s project manager for building the Tent of Meeting. In his book Moses on Management: 50 Leadership Lessons From the Greatest Manager of All Time, Rabbi David Baron makes this observation: “While we read extensive—even laborious—descriptions of exactly how each piece of the Ark must be constructed, there is no record of Moses demanding progress reports, hanging around the construction site to make sure everything was going according to plan, or even repeating his instructions to Bezalel. He knew he had the right person for the job, and he let that person do his job without interference” (p. 152). The point: Good leaders don’t succumb to the temptation to micromanage others.

3. Complacency. Don’t let your success short-circuit your curiosity. That may be why the Bible reminds us: “Work hard at whatever you do” (Eccl. 9:10, CEV). Along the same line, CEO Dieter Zetsche rightly noted the dangers inherent in success: Similarly, Bill Gates has said: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

4. Entitlement. Don’t get the feeling that you have an automatic right to benefits, pleasures, and successes without effort. Even in biblical times entitlement was an issue. In 2 Thessalonians 3:11 we read: “Now we learn that some of you just loaf around and won’t do any work” (CEV). The best leaders never embrace entitlement; they never cease striving for improvement.

5. Rigidness. Sadly, some leaders are inflexible and rigid. Their strongest personality trait is the unwillingness to change. So locked into the past they lose sight of the need to adapt and amend strategies and goals. These types of weak leaders are the brunt of this humorous list titled Strategies for Dealing With a Dead Horse:

  • Buy a stronger whip.
  • Change riders.
  • Appoint a committee to study the horse.
  • Appoint a team to revive the horse.
  • Send out a memo declaring the horse isn’t really dead.
  • Hire an expensive consultant to find the “real problem.”
  • Harness several dead horses together for increased speed and efficiency.
  • Rewrite the standard definition of “live horse.”
  • Declare the horse to be better, faster, and cheaper when dead.
  • Promote the dead horse to supervisory position. The lesson: Dismount. Make necessary changes.

6. Negativity. Train yourself to see possibilities and potentials in addition to dangers and pitfalls in your ministry. Chicago area Rabbi Herbert Bronstein tells of two people he encountered: An elderly woman was confined to a hospital room, practically immobile, in pain, gradually losing the faculty of sight. Several of her family members and good friends had died. Second, a wealthy, successful young man in his physical prime, with family, means to travel and enjoy a great life. However, only the elderly woman exhibited a positive attitude and happiness.

7. Paralysis. Don’t allow the fear of failure to paralyze you. Analyze and act. Accepting modest risks will fortify you for accepting greater risks. During the Civil War President Lincoln was frustrated by the paralysis of General George B. McClellan. Even though the soldiers he commanded were superior in numbers over the opposing Confederate forces, the general’s group was highly inactive. Finally, Lincoln wrote to McClellan: “If you don’t want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while. Yours respectfully, A. Lincoln” (The Little, Browne Book of Anecdotes, edited by Clifton Fadiman, p. 359).

8. Imbalance. Be balanced. Many leaders fail to live a balanced life. As a result, they disappoint their families, their workers, and eventually, themselves. The antidote to this dilemma is mindful living. In their book Resonant Leadership, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee write: “Living mindfully means that we are constantly and consciously in tune with ourselves—listening carefully to our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits. Attending to ourselves like this enables us to be very clear about what is most important to us; it allows us to engage our passion and build on positive emotional states. . . . People who live mindfully catch problems before they become serious, because they pay attention to their inner voice: a voice that includes intuition, wisdom, and a subtle but very sophisticated analysis of what is going on in the world” (ibid., p. 113).

Do some of the tasks you love about your ministry and some of the other tasks, too. Don’t pass on all the things unpleasant for you.

How to Sidestep Pitfalls

1. Question yourself. Take an emotional inventory, asking yourself questions such as these: Am I treating people with respect? Do I listen when people make suggestions or offer constructive criticism? Am I open to new ideas?

2. Watch for warning signs such as these: always thinking you are right, always believing that you know better than anyone else, failing to hear logic of arguments and positions with which you disagree, believing you can do it all and alone.

3. Be aware of your limitations. Operate on the assumption that there will always be some situations in life that someone else can handle better than you can. Work to improve those weaknesses.

4. Have an inner compass. Put your values ahead of your ambitions. Stay in touch with your conscience and your morals constantly, reminding yourself what is most important in life.

5. Keep in touch with reality. Seek and accept counsel. Share your plans and concerns with your ministry team members. Spend time with people from all walks of life.

Victor M. Parachin
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists