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5 Areas Where Leaders Get Stuck and How to Avoid Them

By Ken Gosnell,
business.com writer
|
Mar 26, 2020
Image Credit: nd3000 / Getty Images
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Being a leader isn't easy. Your team looks to you for guidance. Many leaders get caught up in these five areas, but luckily, these leadership pitfalls are easy to avoid.

Just as businesses can get stuck at a certain level of performance, leaders can get stuck at a certain level when faced with difficult decisions or choices. Leaders who wish to lead well should consider if they are stuck at a current level of performance and what needs to be done to move both themselves and the organization forward. Every leader can become stuck in their leadership. 

It is wise to be determined, but every leader must guard against becoming stubborn in the areas where they are stuck. Many decisions or actions can cause a leader to become stuck. Leaders will get stuck at a level of performance when they refuse to get outside of their comfort zone, or they become too comfortable with decisions and situations that they know that is not good for their organization but feel as if they are good enough that they don't need to make a change. It is not the mistakes that hold leaders and companies back, but instead, those areas where the leader is afraid to make a change that they know is necessary but often don't make in a timely manner. 

After extensive research, CEO Experience has discovered that CEOs and leaders often fall into the same indecisions. The following is a list to consider where you might get stuck in your leadership. Consider each carefully, as those areas will often be repeated ad infinitum in the course of business. These are not one-time decisions or actions, but repeated attitudes and behaviors that move leaders from vibrant and dynamic to being a shallow shadow of the leader that was part of their original design. 

1. Waiting for people to change themselves

One area where leaders can become confused about where to take the next step pertains to how to lead people effectively. Leaders often feel the tension of needing people to produce while knowing there is a gap in some people's performance. Leaders are called to help people understand how well they are performing and give them the necessary tools to help them improve themselves. Leaders can help expose blind spots and weaknesses in people and move that person from underperforming to a higher level of performance.  

Waiting for people to improves themselves can often be a defeating leadership move. Leaders should coach employees at all times and in all situations, which includes confrontation, correction and encouragement. Confronting a behavior or an attitude of a team member is challenging work, but leaders should not sabotage themselves and their organization by waiting for people to improve themselves.  

Keeping secret the truths of an employee's performance not only sentences the team member to a persistent pattern of underperformance, but it also condemns the leader to ineffectiveness and to the consistent problem of addressing people's performance. A leader will never perform at their best level unless they inspire their people to perform at their best level. Small words of encouragement, correction, and insight can lead to clarity about how an employee can reach their highest level of capacity. Exposing the truth to an employee about work behaviors, habits, and blind spots will help both the employee and the organization. 

Underperforming employees will never help an organization or company reach a high level of performance.  

Leaders should deeply consider what message or messages they are sending to their team. Everyone in the organization knows when an employee is underperforming, because many of them work with that employee. Often after a poor performer is corrected or removed, many people in the organization express appreciation that the person has been corrected or removed. The leader must be careful not to allow the poor performer to affect their performance as well.   

2. Not delegating tasks that others can do better

People enjoy following leaders who know and are working in the area of their strengths. Many leaders become stuck because they try to lead where they have no passion, knowledge or talent. When a leader leads in areas where they are not productive, they stop organizational growth and frustrate their teams.   

People desire to follow a leader who has value and passion. Weak leaders often cause organizations to leak leaders. Department heads and leaders will leave a leader when they feel like they have a bigger and better vision than the leader possesses. Leaders must challenge themselves not to be the smartest person in the room, but to know how to utilize the smartest people in the room to achieve maximum results. Smart people don't enjoy working for a leader who is clueless about how to lead. 

Leaders who move forward know how to bring a team around them and then release the team to do what team members do best. A significant habit that every leader can master is the art of the ask. Leaders should consistently learn how to ask others for help and to release projects or tasks that others in the organization can accomplish more effectively.  

3. Ignoring the significance of situations

Truth is not always easy to face. Stuck leaders are often so focused on their goals and mission that they can't see what is happening around them. When a leader ignores how people are responding or reacting to situations, it can cause the team to lose faith in them.  

Leaders must evaluate what problem or problems they or their organization are currently ignoring. When leaders understand what will happen to the organization if they don't solve this problem, it can motivate them to act.  

I encourage leaders to know their order and work their order. What I mean by that statement is that there is always an order to things. First always precedes second. Businesses are built on order through processes and standard operating procedures. I have created a tool entitled "Know Your Order," where I have leaders identify the areas of their company that need oversight in a particular month and then to commit to four decisions or actions to commit each week of the month. When leaders know their order, they know where to focus their time and attention. 

A business coach or an executive partner can help a leader to execute their focus and their priorities. Sometimes a leader might need someone outside of the organization or situation to best see the situation. An excellent and smart action that a leader who wants to move from indecision to embracing the reality of their organization is to ask their team, "Where should I be focusing my attention?"

4. Refusing to work on passion projects

Leaders receive a vision and a passion for helping their organizations flourish. When leaders lead well, they can often enhance a person's production. When a leader leads without passion, they often see no increase. When a leader dampens the enthusiasm of their team, the team will never produce. Every company needs a dreamer and a dream manager. Every team needs a leader who has a passion and encourages others to find and work on passion projects. 

CEOs and leaders who stay motivated to lead find passion projects. These high achievers seem to have endless energy. In reality, they have no more energy than other leaders. The secret that these leaders have discovered is finding projects or dreams that inspire them and help them to stay consistently motivated. Passionate leaders understand the value of passion projects and help people on their team to find their energy by allowing dreaming and working on things that matter to the employee. 

A business or department in decline can be easy to detect. Declining companies and leaders often replace their passion for business or a project for a passion for something less critical. Every leader has a passion; the question becomes which passion they are pursuing. CEOs and leaders should frequently ask their team members about their passions. They should systematically instill the concepts of discovering and working on passion projects.  

Leaders need to remember their passion and consider what dream they once worked for that they need to reignite. One tool that I use with CEOs is to help them designate those tasks that they are required to do, generate revenue from doing, and receive a reward for completing. What I am referring to in relation to a reward is those tasks that leaders enjoy doing and fulfillment in completing. 

All leaders are better if they fill their schedules and calendars with at least some tasks that bring a reward to the leader. A leader who burns out is a leader who works on projects and tasks that bring no reward to them. 

5. Delaying critical decisions

It is easy to delay decisions, especially the tough ones. Still, one habit leaders develop that can sabotage their leadership is delaying critical decisions. Leaders who move organizations forward are those who make decisions according to values and convictions. When a leader grows indecisive, they will often lose their team.

Leaders are problem-solvers. They are always looking through the organization to find new problems that need to be solved. Leaders who move forward are relentless about solving problems and making decisions today that impact tomorrow.  

Good leaders recognize the mistake of indecisiveness and quickly move from indecisive to committed. If leaders persist in their indecisiveness, they lose competitive advantage and miss critical opportunities for innovation. When one company moves slowly, competitors who are more agile and streamlined can often gain market penetration. Leaders would be wise to consider what decisions they need to make that they have been putting off and then decide on the first steps to execution they need to implement. I encourage leaders to make one decision a day. A decision a day, especially the right ones, can help a leader move from indecision to commitment to the greater vision. 

One thing I ask leaders each month is to consider what decision they need to make that day so that they will not have regret 365 days later. That year-view model allows a leader to forecast the power of indecision. Often a leader can delay dealing with a problem because the pain threshold has not been crossed. When a leader has a 365-day view, they can often see the problem growing more prominent and more painful. When a problem becomes painful enough, a leader will work to solve it. Proactive leaders solve problems before they become problems, which is the best way to avoid the problem of becoming stuck. 

Conclusion

Even great leaders can become stuck. In fact, every leader will have moments when they are stuck. In dry seasons or times when a leader feels like things are not moving fast enough, it is essential to review the unstuck actions mentioned above. The ability to identify what is causing a leader to be stuck is the first and most important step of getting unstuck.  

From a broad perspective, I have developed a simple assessment to help leaders quickly identify the area that might be impacting their leadership and ability to find breakthroughs. The assessment is five simple statements that a leader can rate either low or high. These statements reflect a leader's current state. Low areas should be worked on first. When leaders are low in multiple areas, the one that they feel is the lowest is the one they should address.   

5 statements of a leader's current state

  1. I am comfortable with the status quo.
  2. I practice top-down leadership.
  3. I only communicate as needed.
  4. I delay problem-solving.
  5. I believe that I don't have time to learn.

Moving a business is challenging, and every leader tends to get stuck. Tenacity is a leadership trait that can often lead to persistence and stick-to-itiveness. However, stubbornness is also an inherent element of this quality that can damage morale and ultimately destroy organizations. Don't become stuck, but stick to the idea of improving yourself and improving your organization. 

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Ken Gosnell
Ken Gosnell
See Ken Gosnell's Profile
Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CEO Experience (CXP). His company serves CEOS and leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. Ken is the publisher of the CXP CEO Executive Guide that is designed to help leaders learn faster by encouraging to give themselves a monthly learning retreat. His monthly CEO retreats have helped thousands of CEOs and their leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, keynote speaker, executive coach, and strategic partner with CEOs and successful business leaders. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.
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