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Hidden leadership traps that threaten long term success

Executives are often seen as strong leaders who have it all together as they take on a company's responsibilities and pave the way for long term success. Michelle Gibbings says that the road isn’t always without some hidden mines.

Leadership Traps

As you head into another year of goal setting, targets and work, it can be easy to get caught up and ignore the niggling issues that, if left untreated, will eventually hold you back from future progress and ongoing success.

Senior leadership roles are taxing, mentally and physically, and it often takes a crisis – getting fired, being made redundant, a major illness or other life event – that forces executives to stop, reflect and recognise that things need to change.

Over the years I’ve seen five key traps to which executives can fall prey:

Ambition trap

For leaders who are used to success and always doing well, success can be addictive. You don’t know how to step back from striving for it, and when the pressure at work rises, your solution is to just work harder and keep going. You fear that if you take your foot off the accelerator, you’ll no longer succeed.

Expectation trap

For leaders who are constantly living up to the expectations of those around them, admitting that they are struggling and over-worked seems impossible. You are so focused on doing what you should do, you never get around to doing what you could do. When the pressure gets too much, you hide the impact and never share how you’re feeling. You worry that if you admit you are tired and struggling, people will think less of you.

Busyness trap

It was Socrates who said, ‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life’. For leaders who are caught up being busy and always ‘on’ they struggle to say ‘no’, to slow down or to switch off. When the pressure gets too much, you’re likely to explode, as you’re already close to burn out. You will likely regularly sacrifice time with family and loved ones and your health for work. Work comes first and you see being busy as part of who you are. Be aware, this isn’t a sustainable approach and eventually your body will force you to stop.

Translation trap

Many leaders have worked hard to get to their position, and yet once they get there, they find they aren’t as happy as they thought they’d be. You feel lost in translation – you wanted this role, and now you’ve got it, the role doesn’t fulfil or inspire you. You feel like you have lost your way and that your purpose is missing. At the same time, you worry that if you change course, you’ll make the wrong decision, or you don’t know how to change because what you are currently doing is all you know.

Self-care trap

Many leaders run their life on adrenalin, not taking enough time to care for their mind, body and spirit. You forget that putting self-care needs first is a critical act of leadership. You are likely to feel run down, tired and over-worked and you say to yourself ‘I’ll get on to this tomorrow’, but tomorrow never comes. One day you’ll wake up and find that exhaustion, adrenal fatigue or some other health issue has stopped you in your tracks.

These traps are not single and isolated. In fact, they frequently overlap. When you fall into one or more of these traps, the impacts will include such things as social isolation and dislocation, poor health outcomes, negative impacts on team members, deteriorating social and family relationships, and, over time, an impact on your career outcomes and therefore your career prospects.

As John Lennon once remarked, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’, so let’s make sure that your life takes the twists and turns you want it to take in 2020.

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