by Michael Holland – 

Walking up a trail in the Adirondacks with a 35-pound backpack while staring at the majestic scenery creates the prime opportunity to catch your toe on the root in the path and tumble forward.

Doing it twice in a matter of 15 minutes… well, that just feels stupid.

New leaders – and forgetful seasoned leaders – tend to make classic mistakes in their positions.

They meander down the path, staring at the sky, not seeing the tree roots that will trip them up.

These “tree roots” are found in three areas of leadership.

Misjudging the Source of Authority

Newer leaders tend to misjudge from where, exactly, their authority is derived.  Authority is a magical quality that, when used correctly, yields tremendous power to influence others and get things done.

Conversely, when used incorrectly or naively, new leaders struggle with a lack of engagement and respect from their employees.

Review these 5 types of authority and think about which would be most effective in different situations.

Ineffective Investment of Time

Leaders have the opportunity to spend their time doing technical work, interacting with humans, and/or conceptually thinking forward.

The challenges lay in the tension between doing what’s comfortable (the technical stuff) while shying away from the human aspects and never “finding” the time to think conceptually.  Successful leaders learn quickly to invest their time in the human and conceptual buckets more than technical buckets (see graphic), allowing them to lead rather than react.

Finding Their Place

New leaders struggle with finding their place in this new world.

  1. Though they recognize that there are relationships which need to be built with new peers, there’s this confusing, political mine field, and crossing it can feel like trying to navigate around Baltimore with a map of Chicago.
  2. There’s the fun of figuring out how to tweak relationships with former peers who are now employees.  Should they still go to lunch?  What about happy hour?
  3. Where exactly should they sit during the big, bad management staff meeting they’ve never attended before?

Great leaders are built over time as they get up off the ground and study the root in the path that just tripped them up.

They learn to examine what happened, why, and who was impacted in what ways.  They mature over time using this information to adjust their behaviors.

They seek other good leaders from whom they can learn and to whom they can teach.

And they try like heck to not trip over the same root twice.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Think back to a time when you made one of these “classic mistakes”.
    • What happened?
    • How was it resolved?
    • How can remembering this help you handle things when your team members slip up in the same ways?
  • What other “tree roots” have caused you to trip up in your walk as a leader?