Pitfalls on the Journey to World-Class Leadership

Updated: Jun 26

Leadership is a big responsibility. Leadership is not knowledge, although knowledge is essential. Experience over time and exposure to multiple type of scenarios leads to mastery.

Four behaviours can transform people into world-class leaders, which I covered in another article.

I learned many of these behaviours over the last 16 years from experience, role models, books and in many scenarios, through trial and error. While some behaviours are easier to learn, the pitfalls and not to do are less obvious or explicit. Some of these learnings took me years to integrate. Others I still refine to this day.

So, what are some common pitfalls?


Decisiveness. 94% of executives scoring low on Decisiveness make decisions too slow. High IQ and desire to get it perfect can get in the way of resolution.


Focusing on learning from decisions is more important than getting it perfect. And it expedites decision-making.

Engaging for Impact. Being too nice and focusing on consensus can delay decisions, create confusion, allow too many priorities and take focus away from the big goal. The lack of clarity can become an obstacle for the teams to deliver on expectations. And it may cause teams to take different directions, rather than a common big goal.

Executives who engaged others with a results orientation are 75% more successful than those who excelled at being likeable.

Reliability means personal and organisational consistency.


No surprise that 75% of successful executives score high on organisational and planning skills. It does become more challenging though when a leader steps into a new role, as they sometimes struggle to promptly transform existing teams and systems. Instead, they rely too heavily on what is already in place.


Without these critical enablers, they fail to deliver consistently on their new goals.

Adapting Boldly. Most failures to adapt to uncertainty are not in setting the right strategy but in the leader’s ability to let go of what has made him successful in the past.

Every context is different, and the ability to make sound decisions on what works in the new context sets some leaders apart. The new solutions may not have made the leader successful in the past. Mastering self and the ability to let go of old beliefs, ideas and especially, the image about self is adapting boldly.

Handling blowups. Failure is inevitable when taking bold action. So, the idea that we can never fail is an illusion.

Failing is not a pitfall, but how failure is managed can be. Two common mistakes supported by data are not taking full ownership of the situation and not transforming it into a learning opportunity.

Not taking full ownership of the situation means focusing on the external factors and people contributing to the outcome. Instead, taking responsibility and analysing why and what went wrong, including a self-assessment, provides an insightful view into mitigation plans and future decision making.

A failure is an immense learning opportunity for the leader, the team, and the organisation to take the learning a step further. It may not be a comfortable exercise, but it builds a level of resilience that can only be created during hard times.

Supporters are critical to success.


Once a leader provides value, they must have recognition for their value. Without recognition at an organisational level, their level of influence is reduced. All senior leaders master influencing others for the benefit of the organisation.


However, on the way to becoming more visible, forgetting that your boss and peers should become your supporters, not your competitors, is an easy way to go off track.



The pattern in overcoming all these pitfalls is behaving with curiosity, courage and humbleness at the same time.


A balance that is hard to keep, especially after a proven track record of success. That’s when it becomes even more critical to stay grounded and on the path.