The 11 Traps Successful Leaders Know To Watch For


Markets and companies go through cycles all the time.  Sometimes, cycles return healthy profits and times are easy.  Other times, it can become difficult to stay in the black.  Do leaders get caught in cycles as well?  Are there traps that successful leaders avoid in order to stay “on top of the game”?


Leaders are faced with obstacles on a regular basis.  Some obstacles, prevent successful leaders from motivating employees in an effective way in order to keep their teams engaged.  Or, it can be a challenge just to self motivate on a regular basis.  It can be more difficult to stay on top than it is to get there.  In your efforts to drive results, you may not notice the crater that is right in front of you.


If you are a regular reader of this post, you will quickly notice that this post is a lot longer than my usual posts.  I wanted to ensure that the information gets communicated without sacrificing any details.  I didn’t want to be confined in trying not to surpass a certain number of words.  However, if time is a factor, you can  Download the PDF Version  of this post and read it at your convenience.


Here are 11 Traps Successful Leaders Know to Watch for:


The Trap of Perfectionism


When leaders focus on attaining perfection, they miss the success of the moment.  Take the time to celebrate the steps that are leading your team to success.  Focusing only on achieving the best is a dangerous trap.  It not only risks demotivating your team but makes it difficult to be fully present for them.  Take a look at the bigger picture and don’t worry so much about the little bumps along the road.


My youngest son when he was in grade 1 received his mid-term report card.  His French mark went from a 60% average in term 1 to a 76% average in term 2.  When I praised him for his progress, he looked at me with disappointment in his eyes.  He was upset that his Math average went from a 96% average to a 94%.  He was so focused on where he dropped, that he forgot to celebrate what he gained.  His disappointment lasted 2 weeks.  This was despite the fact that with a 94% he was 12 points above the class average.


The Know-it-all Trap


A leader’s responsibility is not to have all the answers.  It is to guide and inspire their team to find the answers themselves.  This trap is about failing to find the right balance between direction and involvement.  Successful leaders know how to communicate the desired results, while allowing their teams to find their own ways to get there.


One of the most frustrating experiences I faced was with a leader who only pretended to listen to his team’s advice.  Then, he would begin to give us detailed directions of how we needed to proceed.  I felt more like a robot being programmed to perform to his will.


“Trust your team, you may be surprised at what they can do.”


The Window Trap


The leader who falls into the window trap tends to blame external factors for every setback.

“The budget is too high”

“I don’t have the right team”

“I don’t have enough resources”

And on….


I call this the “window trap” because it represents spending your time looking out the window instead of in the mirror.  Another term can be the “victim trap”.  It’s easy to get caught up in what you cannot control.  The key is to shift gears and ask yourself, “What’s my next move?”  Invest your energy only in what is in your circle of influence.




Failing to Adapt and Grow


What once worked for you may no longer work tomorrow.  The market is always evolving and in order for companies to adapt to the markets, its people must adapt as well.  Thinking that you have reached your peak and no longer need to grow is a mistake.  Effective leaders understand the importance of being humble and staying in the learning zone.


The Trap of Setbacks


When results are present, it is easy to stay motivated and inspire your team.  Unfortunately, these moments don’t last forever.  Tough times will come and sometimes, they will last longer than you are comfortable with.  Leaders can fall into a setback trap during these difficult moments.  They lose focus and control of their emotions.


Do you know a leader who was a great cheerleader during the good times, but turned into an “emotional boxer” during the tough times?  An “emotional boxer” is someone who pounds into you continuously about things that are going wrong.  It’s a term I coined myself by meeting one too many Managers who forget that when the storm is raging, that is when their team needs their guidance the most.




If you fall into this trap, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How might we resolve these difficulties and move forward as a team?
  • How did contribute to the difficulties, and how can I avoid making the same mistakes again?
  • How did they (my team members) contribute to the difficulties, and how can I coach them so they’re better prepared for the next crisis?
  • What does my team need most from me right now to be effective in turning this around?


Falling into a “Labeling Trap”


As an adult, I’m sure you can remember what it was like to have some kids call other kids names and have those names stick for years. If you were one of those kids who were labeled, you can probably remember what it felt like to this day.  Depending on the name a kid was called, it could change the way the other kids saw them and treated them. Being in a clique or being bullied often came from this personality labeling.


In order to get teams to perform at higher levels, one must know who their employees really are and how they are likely to behave in different situations.  What you don’t want to assume is that an employee will behave in the same way every time.


You may have heard the phrase, “Past results is the best predictor of future outcome”.  While this may have a lot of merit, it does not mean that you should label someone.


How do leaders end up labeling someone?


  • Based on his observations
  • From collecting feedback from others
  • From past successes or failures


While past results are a good predictor, it does not take into account someone’s determination and motivation to change and to succeed.


The Time Management Trap


Another common trap leaders fall into is the time trap.  The belief is that they need to fit as much “tasks” into the day as possible.  You fall into this trap when you measure the success of your day by how much you got doneInstead of measuring your day by quantity, measure your day by the quality of your actions. 


Commit to accomplishing the most important things instead of just accomplishing things.  It’s about Results Management, not Time Management.  There will be days that you will spend time accomplishing 2-3 tasks, but , it will bring a better long term result than other days where you accomplish 10 tasks.


Plan your week every Friday and determine what are your most important tasks.  Take control of your calendar and what you spend time doing versus it controlling you.


Ignoring the Management and Development of Talent


“I have too much on my plate.  I don’t have time to spend on training and development”. 


This is probably one of the phrases that I have heard the most when it comes to developing talent.  It is easy to fall into this trap because you don’t see immediate results.  It is not something that is measurable right away.  If you have a choice between answering those 30 emails that have been vying for your attention, or spending 30 minutes engaged in a development conversation, which one is easily measurable?  You don’t see the impact of the conversation right away, while answering those 30 emails is easily measurable.


Imagine if you were a farmer and you inherited fields with a variety of crops.  Your goal is to keep these fields fertile so you can cultivate as much crops as possible.  You have a goal and want to maximize your revenue as quickly as possible.  After all, you have bills to pay.  You start harvesting the crops and though you know that you should be preparing the soil for planting, you feel that you don’t have time.  The market is great and you know you could get high value for your crops if you harvest everything before the end of the month.


You hit your deadline and get your crops to the market right on time and you receive an enormous profit.  You are excited because you can finally go on that dream vacation.  You quickly get the soil ready for the next season but don’t spend too much time on it.  After all, the soil was so fertile this year, it shouldn’t be a problem next season, right?


Next season comes along and you expect the same return, but you didn’t spend enough time during the planting phase.  Your fields produce only 70% of the crops that it did last year.  Should you be surprised?


This is a very simplistic example but meant to drive the point of how important it is to take care of your most important resource, your people.


The management and development of talent is one of the most important investments you can make.  You can mobilize your team to get results but if you don’t invest in their development and engagement, your leadership effectiveness will be short lived.  As we all know, the success and significance of an organization always lies within its people.    Yet, as fundamental as this is, it continues to be the first budget line-item that is either cut or eliminated.




 Ignoring Potential Problems


Leaders solve problems all the time.  An important talent to have is the ability to see a problem before it arrives.  I’ve seen too many leaders ignore what is a new problem or threat on the horizon only to see their results slip, leading to a costlier problem.


If you don’t spend time working on a way to solve a problem, it typically won’t go away by itself.  Take the time necessary to find a solution before you are forced to solve an even bigger obstacle.




The Trap of Not Knowing Your Destination


It may seem obvious, but leaders need to know what their Vision is.  It is easy to get caught up in daily priorities and forget to focus on what the long-term goal is.  Long-term planning is key in determining if your company is heading in the right direction.


Ask yourself these questions on a regular basis:


  1. What does it look like to win? What is the result I want?  This will help you choose your strategy.
  2. Does your team know what winning looks like? Are they clear on the vision?
  3. How do I want to show up? Defining personal success will help you keep the discipline of operating within your values.


Allowing Employees to Become Complacent


Keeping employees actively engaged long-term is hard work.  As a leader, you can work hard and put in the actions necessary to motivate your team, but it takes continuous effort to keep them there.  Complacency is a common trap leaders fall into and it’s most noticeable in the performance of their employees.


It is easy to stay comfortable in your comfort zone.  Your role as a leader is to get employees to want to step out of their comfort zone as much as possible and reach for new heights.


As organizations continue to reinvent themselves, it is important to look out for clues that employees are becoming complacent.


Here are some behaviors to look out for:


  • Disengaged and no longer collaborates
  • Stops asking questions
  • Stops taking initiatives
  • No longer investing in themselves
  • No longer managing their personal brands
  • Takes shortcuts
  • Doesn’t take any risks
  • Lost their passion
  • Disgruntled and communicates it
  • Lost interest for their future in the company


If you find yourself falling into one of these traps, don’t feel like you are not a successful leader.  Even the best find themselves caught once in a while.  In fact, I have probably found myself in one of these scenarios at least once in my career.  Sometimes, I fall into a trap more than once.  If you find yourself in one of these situations, take a step back, recognize it, then find a way to pivot towards a new direction.


What scenario do you find yourself falling into most often?


Referring to this post on a regular basis helps you keep the behaviors you need to avoid top of mind.  If you prefer you can click the link to Download the PDF Version , or click the image below.