8 Traps Successful Leaders Must Avoid

When an organization is performing well, investments in talent and innovation should be at full-throttle. As recent history has shown, companies tend to get complacent when they are on top, instead of sustaining their momentum through strategic focus.

Great leaders know how to keep momentum alive by leveraging their distinct competitive advantages.   They remain hungry in their passionate pursuit of endless possibilities and continually push the envelope to assure the promise of the organization’s culture remains vibrant.  Unfortunately, many leaders stop taking initiative and the required risks to sustain their competitive edge. They fall into the trap of playing it too safe and become self-satisfied, while others get too greedy and lose their attention to detail.

It is more difficult to stay on top than it is to get there.  This is why successful leaders know the importance of “managing disruption” to stay in the lead.  Managing disruption is about finding new methods for how the organization can win, grow and elevate its relevancy.  It’s about  changing what got you to the top, and this means discovering untapped interconnection points amongst the organization’s talent pool, their capabilities, technologies, brands, vendors, the supply chain, etc. – to sustain cutting-edge success.  It means that as a leader, you must live with the entrepreneurial spirit.

Successful leaders know that the global marketplace is changing rapidly.  They recognize that the cause of one’s initial success may be difficult to repeat and sustain because the competition is so incredibly fierce.  As such, great leaders know they must continually look for new ways to strengthen their company’s value proposition and further develop their marketplace distinction.  More than ever before, leaders must manage disruption in ways that inspire hope, not fear – by helping the organization become more productive and forward-thinking, incentivizing performance, encouraging growth in its people, and improving operating standards.   This is why companies such as Apple, Nike, Amazon, Google, Target, Samsung and others like them are regarded as the most innovative and progressive-thinking organizations in the world.

Failure to effectively manage disruption leaves your organization vulnerable rather than fully prepared for and in better control of its future.   This is why CEOs are coming and going so frequently.   Perhaps this also explains why the cost of firing a CEO has grown so significantly.   Daniel Gross recently wrote a compelling story in The Daily Beast titled, Fast Times In The Corner Office, where he discusses why the impatience of investors and volatility of Wall Street is speeding up the inevitable doom of CEOs.    From CEO  to store manager, your ultimate responsibility is to continually and proactively put your organization  in a position of attainable and sustainable growth by creating a culture that never becomes complacent and is always being tasked to elevate its game.

1.  Overlooking or Ignoring Potential Problems

As a leader you are either in the midst of solving a problem, coming out of a problem or heading into a set of new problems.   Effective leaders know how to alleviate tension points throughout the various life cycles of business.   I’ve seen too many leaders ignore what is a new problem or threat on the horizon only to see their market share slip – thus creating a bigger more costly problem.

Great leaders know how to anticipate crisis and manage problems before circumstances force their hand.  The ones that do find more success as a result of the problems they’ve solved.   The key is not to wait for the potential problem to multiply.  Take the initiative and confront every problem head-on.    Discover the opportunities embedded within problems and you will be more comfortable dealing with them, regardless of the magnitude.  Leaders who ignore a potential problem do so because they approach it through a lens of negativity, expecting the worst and not wanting to be held accountable if they can’t solve it.

When you begin to associate problems as opportunity, you will make a powerful observation:  problems are all the same, just packaged differently.


2.  Managing Tactics Versus Leading Growth and Improvements

Leaders have a tendency to get too tactical when they become risk adverse.  They begin to follow more than lead.  They forget what their teams need and expect from them and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Leaders should always be focused on growth and improvements – of people, sales, revenue, maturity of the corporate culture, customers and vendor relationships, etc.  As a leader, you must instinctually be focused on creating a high-performance work environment.

Don’t get caught off guard by your competitors because you got lost in the details and your vision became blurry in the process.


Complacency is a common trap leaders fall into and it’s most noticeable in the performance of their employees.   You know when leaders have lost their edge when employees are losing theirs, too.   Employees who carefully observe their leaders, paying close attention to their behaviors and natural tendencies,   notice when their intensity, focus and expectations begin to wane – and they view this as permission to withdraw themselves.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to set the tone for your department, team and organization.   When you slip, it creates a domino effect.   This is why leaders are caught off guard when their top-performing employees leave the organization.  Top performers like to be in an environment of self-starters and they enjoy competition.  Keep the competition alive and don’t allow your employees to become complacent   or create unhealthy disruption that weakens the organization.  By focusing on your own performance, perhaps next time you can avoid top-talent from walking out the door.


4.  Stop Selling Change

Change management is the new normal.  If you’re not selling change, you’re disabling the organization.  Change should be an embedded part of the company’s culture and as a leader you should demand it.    Change keeps your employees on their toes and allows you to filter out the talent that doesn’t belong in the organization.

For example, I am constantly challenging the organization I lead to “discover the next phase.”  They are tasked to identify the next wave in the company’s evolution and what that means from a product and service innovation, talent, brand, culture, thought leadership and client experience standpoint.  Everyone sells change in my organization.  It’s part of everyone’s job description and every quarter we select “one big idea” for the change pipeline.   A budget, timeline and project manager is assigned.   After the project is launched, we carefully measure the impact on our clients, our culture and our employees.  We want our employees to be comfortable with change and the positive outcomes it can produce.

When leaders stop selling change, they not only become vulnerable but irresponsible to the clients and industries they serve.


Many times leaders forget about the abundance of direct and indirect resources (internal and external) that are available to the organization.  Whether it’s your employees, teams, colleagues, brands, relationships, vendors, industry partners, the media, government, local community, etc. – there are more resources available to leaders than they always know what to do with.   As a leader, be mindful of how you enable those resources to strengthen the organization’s value proposition.    Discover new ways to utilize resources and challenge the entire organization to do the same.

As leaders we are all being asked to do more with less, though many are unsure how to get the most out of fewer resources.   Learn how to optimize your resources, when and when not to use them.   Never abuse resources but know which ones exist and how they can be best put into action, enabled during a time of crisis, or used to support a strategy for growth.

For starters, ask each one of your team members to independently list their 5-10 most valuable resources that they think can help the business grow.   Request that each team member present in detail how each resource could be utilized, in what capacity, to save the company money and/or increase revenue.  If you have a team of 10 people, you will have 50 to 100 resources to choose from. More importantly, you will have taught and now wired your team members to value their resources and that of others for the betterment of a healthier whole.


6.  Mismanagement of Corporate Culture

Many companies are being challenged to re-evaluate their corporate culture in search of new ways to increase productivity and cultivate a best-place-to-work atmosphere where people enjoy working with one another – and can grow in the process.   People want to trust one another and they seek transparency from their leaders.   Top-down leadership will never be fully extinct but more and more organizations are in search of leaders that can build a horizontal leadership environment – one that begins to minimize the importance of hierarchies and silos, which have been shown to cause reductions in productivity and unpleasant work environments (especially amongst the growing younger workforce).

Leaders must have a strong pulse on their corporate culture and not be afraid to test new dynamics and introduce them into the culture.   Running a business is a very fluid activity of evolving pieces and moving parts.  Nothing remains the same.  As such, you must be mindful enough to change the corporate culture to the needs of the business.   Swimming upstream is hard and further magnified when the corporate culture is mismanaged and not in alignment with the requirements to maintain and strengthen the organization’s competitive advantage.


It’s easy to get comfortable with success.  And with success it’s even easier to lose passion for your company’s mission.   When you lose sight of the mission statement, you make the statement that you’re losing your passion for accomplishing the mission at hand.  This is what happens when greed gets in the way.  You think more about the money and success and less about the impact and significance of what you are ultimately striving to achieve.

Unleash your passion to keep your leadership alive!  Don’t ever fall into the trap of losing your passionate pursuit for the mission for this is what your company stands for.  You sold the mission to your people and they expect their leadership to live up to those expectations.   Great leaders are always asking themselves what they must keep doing, stop doing and start doing – in their pursuit of excellence as they seek to fulfill the mission.  They remain ever mindful and accountable for the mission, for they are ultimately responsible for achieving it.

Always remind yourself, your team(s) and the organization that you serve of  your mission statement and the progress being made towards it.  Don’t ever forget or lose your passion for it!


8.  Ignoring the Management and Development of Talent

When you begin to ignore the management and development of talent, the organization is immediately put into a position of risk and vulnerability.   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.

Talent  shouldn’t be managed  as a commodity, but rather as a valuable gem. My organization works with Fortune 500s to help their employees discover their leadership impact and influence.   Time and again, we identify untapped talent potential that is not being used because the organization’s leaders haven’t taken the time to discover it.    Every day is an opportunity to elevate the capabilities, competencies and know-how of your talent pool.  Don’t manage to the job description, but rather to the potential that lies within it.

Your employees and your organization deserve your full attention at all times.  Giving it to them will help you avoid the traps of success and the temptations of complacency.  Steer away from these traps and you will be able to manage any negative disruption and create and sustain unlimited momentum to grow and compete.

Follow me on Twitter @GlennLlopis.

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