When it comes to leadership, people in leadership roles are doing most everything but lead. There is an incredible amount of leadership training. It’s one of the fast-growing industries. But why are leaders are not emerging from them? Working with leaders, change-makers, activists, or simply people who want to make a difference, I can distill many, many mistakes into three key areas.

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1.Managing, Not Leading

The vast majority of leaders enforce rules and operate in a reactive mode. Few leaders lead. Until you know the difference between leading and managing you will likely be managing. Here’s the root of the problem – leaders have been trained to manage. Leaders haven’t been taught to lead. When you got into your leadership role, maybe you had bright ideas about making a change and being more productive. Few can actually say they are innovative and creative in their role, if honest. You learned a system and how to follow the system. You have templates, instructions, guidelines, and handbooks, and you are well trained at ensuring others are following them. At most, you are perfecting those forms, or adding to them.

Leadership is breaking from the norm of how things have been done. No, you don’t do a 180 – changing organizational culture doesn’t happen overnight. Leadership is taking a good look the vision, mission, and goals to see what values are guiding where you are headed. An effective leader is very aware of how values inform and underpin the organization’s actions and direction. Here’s a tricky one – being human-centered versus system-centered. For example, are you focused on curriculum development or the capacities, desires, goals, creativity, and voices of the different individuals? See, we don’t even know how to answer this because the latter is uncharted ground in the vast majority of organizations. I mean at the practice level. If you want to transform, change or grow your organization, let’s start with transforming, changing and growing your leadership capacities – the way you think and lead so that you are leading and not simply managing.

2. Relying on Skillset, Not Growth Mindset

Organizations (and, if included, their curricula) focus on “skillsets”. A skillset is techniques of doing things. A “growth mindset” is learning and as you learn, adapting to embrace emergence, change, innovation and creativity to go beyond the norm. The world is changing and problems organizations face are becoming more complex. Our world requires a mindset that can see well beyond how things have been traditionally done, recognize how to change and adapt to work with newer and bigger demands, and also see the opportunities.

Instead of memorizing and perfecting skillsets, or relying on proven guidelines for dealing with problems, a leader operates in inquiry mode. That is, asking questions of different people, listening, facilitating discussion towards solutions and engagement towards relationship building. Create a growth mindset as part of your organizational culture by holding space for people to connect and to make change happen.

3. Burnout and Stress, Not Balance and Excitement

Here is where leaders make the biggest mistake. They work around the clock. Leaders, often being high achievers, buy into the idea that more means greater impact or more means success. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Burnout and stress often result in poorer decisions, deteriorating health, and aggressive leadership (Krapivin, 2018). It can literally take over your life with depression, anxiety, concentration and illness – possibly heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and substance abuse (Stahl, 2016). Stahl goes further to ask: “Put yourself in your partner’s shoes: would you want to be completely responsible for all the housework, chores, and errands because your spouse or significant other is chronically absent, whether physically or mentally or both (Ibid.)? 

How you lead includes first and foremost how you lead yourself. Are you driving yourself into the ground or are you giving yourself what you need to be the pillar for those around you, in both your private and public life? This will be the key challenge for leaders as they assume true leadership. How can you find balance (not at every moment of your waking day but for the most part)? How might you forgive yourself for not leading perfectly in this key area, strategize and maybe make some big and hard decisions to lead a life of balance and excitement? What will you need to drop and add to your personal life to empower yourself and others to live in excitement, creativity, and aliveness? What are the things you want to have happen 20 years from now?


Stahl (Mar. 4, 2016). Here’s What Burnout Costs You. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2016/03/04/heres-what-burnout-costs-you/#4bc1d15e4e05

Kapavin, P. (Oct. 10, 2018). The Deadly Cost of Employee Burnout. Forbes. Retreived from https://www.forbes.com/sites/pavelkrapivin/2018/10/10/the-deadly-cost-of-employee-burnout/#7d9d5bf068c7

First published on Medium, 13 April 2019