IIDM: 5 traps for leaders that can trip you up - Michelle Gibbings

In this article for the International Institute of Directors and Managers, Michelle highlights five traps to be aware of that can trip you up as a leader. 

Throughout my career and with the executive coaching work I do now, I often see leaders who are trapped. They know something’s not working, but struggle to pinpoint why. They are locked in a pattern of thinking and behaving and are fearful of change.

It often takes a crisis – getting fired, being made redundant, a significant illness or another life event – that forces them to stop, reflect and recognise that something needs to change.

So what are the traps that can trip you up? There are five traps to be alert to:

1. Ambition trap

For leaders who are used to success and always doing well, success can be addictive. They don’t know how to step back from striving for it, and when the pressure at work rises, their solution is just to work harder and keep going.

If this is you, you worry that if you take your foot off the accelerator, you’ll no longer succeed.

2. Expectation trap

For leaders who are continually living up to the expectations that are placed on them by those around them, admitting they are struggling and over-worked seems impossible. They are so focused on doing what they should do, they never get around to doing what they could do. When the pressure gets too much, they hide the impact and never share how they are feeling.

If this is you, you worry that if you admit you are tired and struggling that people will think less of you.

3. 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, they are likely to explode as they are already close to burn out.

If this is you, 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.

4. 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. They feel like they are lost in translation – they wanted the role, and now they’ve got it, the role doesn’t fulfil or inspire them.

If this is you, you feel like you have lost your way and your purpose is missing. At the same time, you worry that if you change course you’ll make the wrong decision, or you fear you don’t know how to change because you think what you currently do is all you can do.

5. Self-care trap

Many leaders run their life on adrenalin, not taking enough time to care for their mind, body and spirit. They forget that putting their self-care needs first is a critical act of leadership.

If this is you, then 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; indeed, they frequently overlap. Falling into one or more of them can lead to social isolation, poor health, negative impacts on team members, and deteriorating social and family relationships. Over time, it can also impact your career and broader life outcomes.

The question to ponder – are you in danger of tripping into a trap? If so, what needs to change?

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