When the trap closes, it’s too late to do anything. In the physical world, we set traps for other things like mice and pantry moths. Leadership traps are more insidious because you set them for yourself and when they spring, it’s too late. Here are three of the most dangerous leadership traps.
The Precedent Trap
One of the things that they don’t talk about much in the leadership books is that everything you do as a boss sets a precedent. What you do today determines what you can do tomorrow.
What you do today sets the benchmark that your team members will use to judge your actions in the future. Find extra money in the budget for John’s special project and they’ll expect you to find some for Mary next month. Allow Doris to miss the daily standup and everyone else will expect the same consideration.
The Culture Trap
Marvin Bower gets credit for the classic quick definition of culture: “The way we do things around here.” If you’re the person responsible for the performance of the group, though, you have a more demanding standard.
The primary thing that determines culture is what you reward and what you don’t. Your teammates will learn what you think is important and what they should do by observing what you reward. You create your team culture with the hundreds of little rewards you deliver.
If you hold people accountable, your team will assume that accountability is important. If you praise progress you will develop a culture where people strive for progress. If you reward candor, especially when it’s uncomfortable for you, you will develop a culture where people tell each other uncomfortable truths. What you do matters.
The Example Trap
It seems to me like we always talk about leadership by example as if it’s a good thing, and it is if you set a good example. What most of those books don’t tell you is that everything you do matters because your teammates watch what you do to determine what’s important to you and what they should do. The books also don’t tell you that you don’t get any time off.
If you work hard, your team will work hard. If you care for other people, your team will do the same. But have a bad day, or string a few together, and they will remember. To quote George Patton: “You are always on parade.”
The reason that leadership traps are so dangerous is that you can go on forever and not realize that you’re doing things that make it tougher to accomplish the mission and care for the people. Every day, make a conscious effort to do things that set the right precedents, grow the right culture, and set a good example.