Do You Make These Mistakes in Leadership?

I was having a conversation with a really close friend the other day. This person is a high-level leader who has a lot of autonomy in his role. He can make many decisions that can affect many lives. His board of directors gives him a lot of latitude to direct the vision and mission of his organization. His team loves working with him.

He knows leadership. He not only articulates this in the way he speaks, but I can see the actions of his life. He is:

  • Self-aware and others-aware.He knows his strengths and weaknesses, and is not afraid to admit when he doesn't know something. He is keenly aware of how others are presenting themselves.
  • Communicates vision. He repeats the vision for his organization over and over and over. I mean, if you are part of his group and cannot articulate what the organization is about, then you must be trying not to understand. You might not like it, You might not agree with it, But there is one thing for sure…You HAVE HEARD IT!
  • Displays cognitive and emotional intelligence. He is smart enough to be in his role and knows when his emotions are in play and how to manage them.
  • Balances task and relationship. He realizes that leadership is about both Leaders have followers and they need to work together to create the organization's vision.
  • Understands positives and negatives of culture. He knows that culture has both cool stuff about it and warts, and that is all just part of the cultural paradox.
  • Change Matters. He moves his team forward because he knows if he stands still, they become irrelevant. He is keenly aware of dynamics of change like conflict, stress, and speed.
  • Strategic and systematic thinker. He has a strong ability to know what the root issue is that needs to be addressed. He listens compassionately to all concerns and can keep his team focused on what the whole organization needs.
  • Spiritually connected. He interacts with people showing both grace and mercy at appropriate times and has a strong moral compass.

He both knows leadership and acts as a leader. As you can tell, I am a fan. I am not in any way saying he is perfect, just that when it comes to leadership he really gets the core essence.

The Conversation

Our dialogue was actually quite short. Neither of us had much time that day, but the conversation was about something very important to both of us. We both are members of an organization that is struggling. Its current leadership has been in place for a few years.

Leading this organization is in no way easy. What is easy is to sit back (like I am doing) and be critical.

My intention is not to be negative or critical but to turn some of our observations of this organization into a learning moment for all of us.

Here are 5 leadership mistakes we quickly identified. Perhaps you could use this list as a reflection of where you are in your own leadership.

The Mistakes

  • Personal Agenda. The leader has become emotionally attached to his initial vision and doesn’t seem to be allowing himself the capacity to learn.
  • Incremental Change. The leadership team has gotten into the weeds of the change that is needed. They are too focused on the tactics of making the change happen rather than staying strategic and delegating. This is causing the change to be micromanaged and blame is starting to occur.
  • Spirit of Defensiveness. When strategy gets questions and an answer is given confidently. When people want more depth, the same answers are given only louder and with more extraversion. This behavior is turf-protection rather than a spirit of openness and curiosity.
  • Vision possibility. While the vision for the organization is inspirational, it is one that is hard to relate to the practical. While inspiration carries with it emotion and cultural comfort, a vision has to do more than give a feeling of eating “Momma’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes." George Bernard Shaw gets attributed with one of my favorite vision quotes that makes the distinction between inspiration and possibility: “you see things; and you say, ‘why'. But I dream things that never were; and say 'why not!’.”
  • Lack of personal awareness. Perhaps the biggest issue is that many people tell this leader he is great all the time. I think he has started to believe it. While I am sure he feels some pressure in the role, my concern for him is that he is falling prey to the invulnerability fallacy.
  • The invulnerability fallacy. Because he has risen to the top, and many in the organization were excited he took the role, nothing can go wrong for him.


It is good for all of us to get really honest with ourselves from time to time. If you are sitting there telling yourself, “Well none of this happens to me so I am doing well," then perhaps you are suffering from the fallacy of thinking that you are all-knowing. I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains.

I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains. This is one of the reasons that coaching is so important. Every leader needs to have a voice who will speak truth to them. Who can help them see things that are not obvious. It is very difficult for someone who is internal to the organization and wants to stay, to deliver meaningful, long-term feedback. Once in awhile, someone will speak one word of truth, but very few will have the intestinal fortitude to continue on. This is one of the real values that coaching can bring. Hopefully, you are working with a coach, and this coach is providing you the challenge you need in your leadership life.

Every leader needs someone in their life who will keep them honest and humble, who doesn’t have much to lose in delivering bad news, a trusted voice who can lead the leader out of the wilderness, someone you can put your faith in because you know they have your best interest in mind.


I have given you 8 positive leadership dimensions and 5 things that can go wrong in leadership. Do a reflective assessment of your own leadership. Not that these two lists are in any way definitive, but use them to think, reflect, and assess what your leadership looks like. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. 

Stop Following Your Passion, Try This Instead

When The Passion Burns Out

We are all told to 'follow our passion.' When finding a job, do something you're passionate about. If you are working on a project or presentation, find a topic you are passionate about. Although passion is important, I challenge you to consider if it is truly sustainable, and if it can remain constant. Much like in a dating relationship, the passion is strong in the beginning, yet over time, the intensity of the passion mellows. This also happens when starting a new position in leadership. You are excited about the possibilities ahead for your followers and are passionate about the work, yet as you settle into the role and establish a routine you find that the excitement has dissolved and the passionate drive has slowed down significantly.

Does this feel familiar to you?

Trust me, you are not alone in this feeling. In fact, I can relate and even share with you what I did about it.


It's Happened to Me

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, says one of the grand misconceptions about quitting your boring job so you can have a creative life is that 90% of what you will find in your new life that you are seeking is boring too. It is mundane. It is slugging it out. In my own life, I left my job to pursue my passion and do what I felt would be more exciting. Today, I get entrepreneurs and business people who come up to me and say, "I want to do what you do, it seems so cool." Now, I am blessed beyond measure, and when I am with my clients face to face helping them become more effective it is awesome.

But I want to let you in on a secret.

90% of what I do is boring.

I have contracting, and invoicing, and managing expectations, and TSA, and delayed flights. But I wouldn’t trade it right now for anything because I do enjoy that 10% that allows me to interact with interesting people. The one thing that motivates me through the mundane are those people, as well as one simple word: curiosity.

Cure it with Curiosity

I propose that curiosity is more sustainable than passion. Curiosity is vibrant and what you as a human being have been created to be. Think about sitting a little kid down with crayons or with Legos. They just started to create and explore the colors. It often doesn’t make any sense to have a purple bumble bee, but we encourage this in kids. When a kid builds a lego building or car, rarely do they ever step back and say, "This is my masterpiece, my life's work is finished!" Instead, they are curious about their creation and what they can do to make it better, or even do something entirely different with it.

Leadership is much this way. Cast a vision, identify your followers, build your team up, but do not stop there. Become curious about your team, how you work together, and the goal you are working toward. Learn about your followers and look at your projects from different angles. This will allow you to gain perspective of how others see your leadership versus how you see it and allow you to revel in this curiosity.

Stay Curious

Krista Tippet, the producer and host of the podcast On Being, asked this about marriage one time: "Can there be anything more intimate and exciting than marriage?" Two people whose lives become intertwined and intimate to a point that at times they feel as though they are one. A relationship that experiences intimacy and passion, and yet in my own experience is 90% boring.

Please don't misunderstand what I am saying. My wife is NOT boring! In a marriage, especially when the kids are grown, this becomes evident. Things become routine. We take the basics for granted and most of the time it can seem quite ho-hum.

How I treat the boring is to become curious about what is boring. Taking myself and my needs out of it, and instead making it an exploration of the perspective of my wife. Always learning, always curious.

This is should be your leadership experience: A journey of curiosity with the discipline of organizational leadership. Leadership is a marriage between you and your followers. After some time, this relationship can become very boring, if you don’t remain curious.

The Power of Curiosity

Through curiosity and learning, you'll strengthen your leadership and build strong relationships with your followers. Your new found understanding will allow you to work in sync and you'll see your vision arise. When this happens, there will be moments where the passion is reignited and you should enjoy it. Until those moments, remain curious and be eager to learn. This is a safe and wonderful place for you to explore.

Like the famous actor (and most interesting man in the world) Jonathan Goldsmith laments on the Dos Equis beer commercial to “stay thirsty my friends," I say “stay curious my friends, stay curious."


Think about your followers and what you would be curious to learn about them. Plan a team meeting or a one-on-one with your followers to spend time getting to know them more personally and professionally. What can you learn from them? What potential or skills do they have that you could utilize more? What insights could they offer on your current project that you hadn't thought about? Take some time this week and schedule a couple of these meetings. Let us know how they go or what you learned by leaving a comment below!

5 Visioning Mistakes Leaders Make

My wife and I are enjoying a beautiful fall drive in central Indiana today. We drove up from Florida to surprise and celebrate our daughter Gretchen’s 25th birthday. If you want to see what a surprised 25-year-old actually looks like, click here. I do enjoy fall. Fall colors. The crisp fall air in Indiana. Apple cider. College football. Playoff Major League Baseball (Go Cubs!). Fall is an amazing season.

For me, fall also brings working on my 1, 3, & 5-year business plan. My clients are busy putting training, speaking, and coaching engagements together in their organizations. In addition to planning next years activities, I have been working on setting a new vision for my organization.

I know visioning is a leadership topic that gets a lot of press, and not all of it is good. Much of it is confusing, such as do you establish a mission for your organization and then set a vision, or does the vision of the leader establish the mission the organization undertakes? I don’t want to get caught up in this chicken or the egg argument. Actually, I think both can be true.

Choices of a businessman

Rather, I would like to spend some time reflecting with you on common vision setting mistakes I have seen leaders make in the past. Each of these common mistakes I have either made myself or been associated with leaders who could have gotten better results if they had paid closer attention to these elements.

When most leaders think of vision, they turn to creating the vision or casting it to followers. While both of these are important elements, rarely are these specific items where the problem lies.

It Is Not Vision Creation

Vision gets created in a variety of different ways.

At times, the leader gets an inspirational or even divine intervention. In these cases, the leader is often in a reflective or meditative state, and a vision will be provided to them regarding the direction the organization needs to take. Other methods for vision creation are more organic, and the vision will evolve from the existing work being done in the organization.

Vision can also be created by groups that the leader pulls together. I helped create a vision for a drug and alcohol task force a few years ago using an open meeting concept. (If you want to learn more about open meetings you can click here and go to a blog I did on the subject several months ago.) Using this process, group members decide together what they want the vision of the organization to become.

In all my experience with vision creation, rarely have I seen a statement that was the issue. In fact, I can not think of one example of a leader or a group who actually created a bad vision. The issues for vision not becoming reality do not rest in the creation process. If things don’t go right in the implementation of the vision, the actual vision itself can come into question as being the right one. Rather than the actual vision getting the blame, maybe we as leaders need to dig a little deeper into the question of why our vision is not working.

The 5 Mistakes

The following are simply five common mistakes that I have found to be common in my experience and observation. If you have other thoughts or have seen other things, why not drop me a line in the comments section below? I would love to hear from you and learn from your experience.

  1. Not describing where the vision originated. In my estimation, this boils down to pure arrogance on the part of the leader. The image followers have is that you were sitting on a mountain and received the vision for the organization from on high. I am not saying that this cannot happen, but if it does you need to communicate it to those in your organization. Followers need sufficient detail in order to understand and have trust in where you are taking them. Some will follow blindly, but most will not. As you provide detail on how you arrived at your vision, you will earn their trust. The Fix: Spend time providing detail around the vision to your followers so they can catch your enthusiasm for where the organization is headed.
  2. Lack of role clarity for inner circle followers. Those in your inner circle must have clarity about what their role is going to be in making the vision a reality. Those who are direct reports to you must be able to articulate and own the entire vision, from the creation process to the communication and implementation. There must be accountability within this inner circle. In no way can the leader come up with, own, and implement alone. Development, creation, ownership, and implementation must be an organizational process.The Fix: Everyone in the inner circle must have specific accountability for an aspect of vision implementation.
  3. Lack of personal belief in the vision. Many of you who read this blog do not have direct impact or influence on the vision for your organization. In many cases, it is handed to you to embrace and make reality. Others in your organization need to know that you embrace the vision. I don’t think it is true to say that you have to agree with every small detail around implementation. However, it is vital that you believe in the vision and overall direction the organization is headed. If not, you probably need to do some reflection on whether you are in the place you really want to be. If you do not like the vision, influence it. If you can not influence it and you don’t like it, then maybe your calling is elsewhere.The Fix: Reflect on how you personally believe in the vision of your organization. Write out your thoughts. If you don’t believe in the vision, get out.  You will only be a barrier to performance in the long run. If you need to leave the organization, this exercise will help you articulate what you believe so you can match this with the next group you associate with.
  4. Abdication of the vision. Here is one I heard recently: “This is Pastor Eric’s vision for our church!" May these words never be uttered in your organization, whether you lead in a Fortune 500 company or a local church. The words you never want to hear are that those in the masses have not bought in and owned the vision for themselves. If ownership of the vision does not get passed down, the likelihood of the vision becoming  reality is quite small.The Fix: Everyone in the organization needs to be accountable for how they are implementing the vision in their own organization. As you interact with subordinates, have conversations about what they are doing to own and make the vision a reality.
  5. Devaluing Encouragement. People in the organization need to know that you believe they get the vision. Far too many leaders cast a vision then move on to something else. There is power in vision and the people need to know you believe it! The best way to build positive momentum around the vision is to articulate it, then catch people doing it. When you catch them, why not tell them, and everyone in the organization, that you caught them? Again, there is no better way to get the behavior you are looking for than to communicate success. Period.The Fix: Catch people implementing the vision and celebrate it with the world!

P.S. Some of you are working on personal vision for your career and your life. I think some of the same issues occur in personal visioning work. You may have to make some adaptations, but I do think the issues are worth thinking through.


Study the 5 mistakes leaders make when it comes to visioning. Write a 3 bullet point action plan that can turn your mistake into learning, and eventually a success.

Example: After reflecting, I realize that I have not fully owned my organization's vision. As a result, I am going to:

  • Sit with my supervisor to ensure I can clearly articulate the meaning and intention of the vision.
  • Hold a meeting with my direct reports to connect what we do on our team with the vision of the organization.
  • Assign staff members to make presentations on how what they do links to the vision of the organization.

If you try this homework, we would love to hear how it is working for you. Why not leave a comment below and let us know how it is going for you?

Top 3 Leadership Reasons Leeza Gibbons Won Celebrity Apprentice

Two distinct leadership styles were pit against each other in the finals of this year’s Celebrity Apprentice.

Character one is Geraldo Rivera, the egotistical, self-made, self-reliant leader. Geraldo made it into the finals of the competition with a style of being hard-working and very well-connected, making sure that everyone in his circle of influence knew how powerful he was. He is smart and full of talent and very egocentric.


Character two is Leeza Gibbons, the selfless, humble, follower-centric leader. Leeza made it into the finals of the competition with hard work and high levels of self-awareness. Her ability to listen to others and encourage those on her team was really a classic study in leader-follower interaction. The way she attracted followers was captivating.

Donald Trump, the Boss of the show, asked contestants who had been “fired" in prior episodes who they thought would win. Those who chose Geraldo thought he would win because of his power. Those who thought Leeza would win said it would be because she had such a positive influence.

The TV drama was really interesting from a leadership perspective. A classic battle between two types of influence. The dictator who leads with power and intimidation versus the servant who leads with compassion and caring. Even the Boss, Donald, was amazed when he told Leeza that he could not believe she had made it this far with that kind of leadership style.

As followers, you have to ask yourself, “Which type of leader would I rather follow?". You have to decide which type of leader you're going to be. It's hard to live in both worlds.

Leeza Gibbons was triumphant with her servant leader style. Her leadership style cut out the crazy and dropped the drama some followers brought to the task. She got along well with people.  Geraldo got fired because he couldn’t play nice with others. It was really that simple.

Leeza  successfully employed 3 core leadership principles for the win:

  1. Know Where You Are Going Leeza provided a clear vision and direction for her team. We have a lot of clutter in our world. Leaders must be clear and consistent. As a leader do not get distracted from your core message and your vision.
  2. Be Passionate As the leader, the level of passion will be established by you.  Err on the side of “no one cares as much about this as you do”.  It does not matter if their lives depend upon it, the level of passion and commitment of the group will never exceed that of the leader. EVER!!!
  3. Have Zero Ego In his book Humble Inquiry, noted organizational leadership scholar Edgar Schein shares the premise that many organizations lack a safe environment for lower-level employees to engage or bring up issues.  Leeza Gibbons won Celebrity Apprentice because she established a climate in which all followers felt safe and she made the team better.
Questions to ask yourself as a Leader:
  1. Do you know where you are going and is your vision clear? DO NOT assume because you said it once a year ago that followers get it. Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
  2. Are you the most passionate person in your organization for your vision? If you are lacking passion, what do you need to get back on track?
  3. Am I willing to let go of my ego and make my success about others and not myself?

For more information on this topic, Edgar Schein has written a really great book on how to start: Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Check it out and let me know what you think.

[reminder]Did you watch this season of Celebrity Apprentice? What was your biggest takeaway? [/reminder]