6 leadership traps that could put your career at risk

6 leadership traps

High-achieving entrepreneurs and business leaders are eager to find tips for getting ahead. Seminars are the go-to source for gleaning ideas for the next big breakthrough. And often, they hear advice that encourages them to “trust their gut” or “follow their instincts.”

Instincts serve a critical purpose, especially when you are in real danger. Relying on instincts alone could put you at risk of falling prey to common leadership traps.

“If you go with your gut, you could be right or wrong,” says Krishna Pendyala, founder of the ChoiceLadder Institute.

Trust your ‘counter’ instincts

Gut instincts are essential to survival. If humans didn’t trust their instincts thousands of years ago, they might not have survived.

Today, the challenges CEOs face aren’t a fight for their life, but many times are perceived as such because it may threaten their egos and reputations. In these situations, relying on instincts alone can hinder rather than advance your career.

“You want to gather the facts, take in feedback and cultivate your skill to discern and improve your judgment,” he says. “That doesn’t mean believing everything you hear but taking the relevant components while filtering out the noise.”

Most business leaders speed up when things get hectic, falling prey to “traps” that lead to more possible mistakes. Instead, the right thing to do is to slow down. Pendyala calls this counter-instinctive behavior.

You may be thinking that’s a typo for counterintuitive, but it’s not. Being counterintuitive means thinking something works one way and learning it’s the opposite. Conversely, counter-instinctive means taking actions opposite to your natural impulse or inclination to avoid common traps.

Here, Pendyala shares 6 leadership traps he suggests leaders be aware of and potentially avoid.

6 Common Traps for Leaders

People are genetically hardwired to be fear-motivated, highly reactive and prone to urgency. These responses are natural and must be acknowledged. Given that leaders are driven to succeed, this reactive nature can be intensified.

Recognizing when these circumstances can arise and taking steps to counter them can help leaders avoid many pitfalls.

Belief trap

Seeing is believing.

“It’s not unlike what couples might say, ‘You only hear what you want to hear.’ We only see what we want to see,” Pendyala says. “Since we have the power to create our reality, it behooves us to pay close attention to details, gather facts and make distinctions between the facts and perceptions to ensure we’re capturing reality.”

As Mark Twain stated, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Arsonist trap

Leaders are typically type A, service-oriented individuals with a firefighter gene, Pendyala says. They are great at running into, and solving, problems and getting a rush doing so. However, the need for adrenaline can predispose them to stir the pot when things are calm and running well.

“Likewise, they tend to reward other firefighters within the organization and ignore the fire preventers who are largely invisible,” he adds. “This creates a culture for arsonists to thrive.”

Efficiency trap

Efficiency can be measured in the here and now, which helps meet deadlines, while effectiveness takes time to evaluate. Because of this, Pendyala believes many leaders sacrifice effectiveness in the pursuit of efficiency.

“Given the preponderance of KPIs in the workplace to measure productivity, many leaders meet productivity goals but may miss the quality goals,” he says.

Hyper-focus trap

Successful professionals achieve results through laser-focus attention to tasks. Consequently, this can lead to what psychologists refer to as tunnel vision making it easy to miss critical events or details on the periphery.

“When one is focused and, in a hurry, to get things done, the magnitude of tunnel vision increases and we tend to miss even more things,” Pendyala says. “Ideally, slowing down is best but that’s quite difficult. Asking your team to watch out for things you may not be paying attention to is key to protecting yourself from surprises and unexpected risks.”

‘Not a big deal’ trap

Big problems draw out big reactions. But when the problem is small, it receives little or no response.

“Little problems become big problems and devoting energy and resources to address a small problem could end up being a much wiser investment than waiting until a problem becomes much greater in magnitude,” he says.

Identity/ego trap

Pendyala recently coached a mountaineer who climbed Mount Everest. When asked, “How did it feel to reach the pinnacle of the world?” the individual replied, “As a mountaineer, there are many more mountains to climb.”

“Once you identify yourself, in this case as a mountaineer, you need to continue climbing, and it is all you do,” he says. “For leaders, getting caught up in your role could become your Achilles’ heel.”

Learning the value of counter-instinctive behavior and practicing it diligently can help you illuminate blind spots before they trip you up.

Related Resources

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Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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