Great ResignationDiversity and InclusionCompensationCEO DailyCFO DailyModern Board

3 Leadership Traps to Avoid

July 7, 2016, 2:00 PM UTC
Businessman talking in meeting
Businessman talking in meeting
Photograph by Sam Edwards—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Starting a business is difficult. It’s not for everyone. Once you decide to leave corporate America behind and forge ahead on your own, it’s easy to get ensconced in your own bubble. That may sound like a tempting and comfortable place to be, but I believe it’s a mistake. This isn’t the time for you to be the protagonist — instead, you should focus on being part of an ensemble and finding a strong supporting cast.

As someone who has bought and sold over 250 companies in my lifetime, I’m here to tell you being a leader isn’t simple. Not every decision you make will be a good one. Mistakes are inevitable.

That said, an occasional bad decision is different from bad leadership, which will kill your business. Here are a three leadership traps you must avoid if you want to be successful.

1. The know-it-all trap: ‘It’s my way or the highway’

Rigidity limits you to one or two opposing ideas and nixes the collaborative process altogether. You don’t need me to tell you this isn’t a good thing, especially for a start-up, where collaboration is one of the main ingredients for success.

Related: In a World Full of ‘Experts,’ Here’s Where the Real Wisdom Comes From

As a leader, you must avoid being arrogant and pretending you know everything. You don’t. Instead of projecting arrogance, concentrate on inspiring confidence. A confident, humble leader gets more from their team than an arrogant leader who thinks they know everything. Confident leaders listen carefully to multiple points of view and then act decisively. Become a leader that inspires people, not a leader that drives them away.

2. The victim trap: ‘It’s not my fault’

You can’t be an effective leader if you blame external factors for every setback. In my book, Think Big, Act Bigger, I mention how excuses are easy, addictive, and designed to shut things down. Not to mention they create a big disconnect between where you are now and where you want to be.

To avoid making excuses, be crystal clear about what you want to achieve. Everything I do in business has to meet the following criteria: it makes me money, it allows me to grow professionally and I have fun doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Becoming an effective leader means turning the focus from blame to accountability. If your team knows what they need to do, everyone is accountable – allowing you to think about the bigger picture. It’s easy to point fingers, but resist the temptation. Instead, use every situation as a teachable moment.

3. The waffler trap: ‘You can either play fair or play to win, not both’

Here’s my question, why does it have to be either/or? For me, it’s an AND. Thinking that in order to win you have to cheat or sacrifice your beliefs makes no sense. You may not be able to control the outcome of the game, but you can control how you play the game.

Related: How to Make Sure You’re Building a Stellar Team

To any entrepreneur out there thinking they have to be cutthroat in order to succeed, here’s a tip: you don’t! For example, if you’re in search of funding for your business, be honest, forthcoming and focused on your goals. You might be able to get away with telling a lie to someone at some point, but a word to the wise: It will come back to haunt you at the worst possible moment. People often make themselves bigger than they actually are. Some claim to have this big company, or have this big contract with a client, when in reality they’re working from home and don’t have any contracts. Nothing wrong with having a small office or working from you, just don’t exaggerate your situation. A white lie is still a lie, which means it has the power to permanently damage your reputation. Honesty is still the best policy.

Here are some additional things you can do on a daily basis to avoid falling into other leadership traps are:

  • Print out your calendar. It will not only keep you on track, but also make you accountable to your team
  • Listen to your team. As a leader you must milk every experience and learn as much as possible. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Athletes must practice their craft in order to get better, so why don’t you? It’ll make you a better speaker, marketer, sales person or business owner


Implementing these steps and being aware of who you are and where you want to be as a leader is a great first step, but this is on-going work. If you want to get better, you must practice. After all, practice makes perfect.

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.