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Dangerous leadership potholes.

Motorists are familiar with the dangers posed by potholes on roads. Not only do potholes impede motorists' speed, they could also cause serious damage to vehicles and even precipitate accidents that might result into the death of not just the driver or passengers in a vehicle but other road users as well. Potholes are crevices and craters which are caused by a number of factors. Most potholes start as cracks but get bigger and more dangerous when neglected.

As crevices and craters create potholes on highways, so do character flaws create potholes in leadership. The potholes can shipwreck leadership and ruin organizations. Here are some leadership potholes that leaders should guard against.


Indecision in leadership is an anomaly because decision making is at the heart of leadership. Leaders are paid to make decisions that will improve the lot of their organizations. So, when a leader is hesitant about making decisions, he has already failed the first test of leadership because unless decisions are made situations do not change. When the situations do not change, no success can be recorded.

Leaders fall into the indecision trap for a number of reasons.

Evading the buck

Leaders become indecisive if they do not want to carry the can in case the decision goes bad. Leaders such as this lack the understanding that even when a subordinate makes the decision, the success or failure of such decision is attributable to them because as a former President of the United States of America, Harry Truman, said, the buck stops at the desk of the leader. Leaders who want to pass the buck will never be decisive. And indecisive leaders never make serious impact.

Fear of failure

Even when all the facts show that going in one direction will produce the desired result, the contrary can still happen. This is why some leaders are indecisive. But it is better to make a wrong decision than to fail to make one. When a leader makes a wrong decision, he is better equipped to make the right one in future because he will have learnt from his experience. But a leader who fails to make a decision for the fear of failure does not get any better.

Waiting for a favourable condition

Leaders get stuck in the mire of indecision when they are waiting for a favourable time to do what they ought to do. It is very unlikely that there will be a perfect time for anything. What leaders do is to make the best of every situation.

Fear of division

By its nature, decision creates division because it is unlikely that all those affected by the decision will agree with it. So, when leaders do not want to create a division they fail to be decisive.


Perhaps the gravest of all the reasons for leadership indecision is incompetence. When a leader knows his onions, he is not afraid of taking a position and facing the consequences. But those who are not surefooted will vacillate because they are not operating from the position of knowledge and are unsure of what to do or what to expect.

An indecisive leader cannot keep the respect of his followers.


Selfishness destroys a leader faster than any other thing. Leadership is founded on trust. When followers and subordinates trust their leaders to represent their interests very well, there is no limit to what they can do to ensure the success of the leader. But when a leader gives his followers reasons to doubt his total commitment to their wellbeing, there is no extent to which the followers will not go to wreck the leader.

Selfishness in leadership begins when a leader allows his personal interest to compete with the interest of those he leads. As observed by Art Rainer, leaders are stewards of people. But when there is a clash between the interest of a leader and that of the people he leads, he can no longer serve them. Rather, he begins to use them. But leaders are expected to build and serve people, not use them. A selfish leader who uses people lives to regret it because the people will work for his failure.

Traits of selfishness in leadership

Over ambition

A leader falls into the trap of selfishness when he is goaded by ambition. It is very good to be ambitious. Ambitious leaders build great organizations. But when a leader becomes obsessed by ambition, he loses control of himself and his organization and the only thing he can see is his interest.

Appropriating all benefits

While a selfish leader is quick to assign tasks to his subordinates, he is not as quick to spread the benefits that come with his office. Instead, he sits on them and alienates others from enjoying same. But great leaders don't do that. Leadership is primarily about opening doors for others. Leaders open doors for others by creating opportunities for them. Great leaders always want to see their followers get better. They do this by helping them to achieve their personal goals. While a leader should be particular about corporate goals, he should not overlook the personal goals of each of his subordinates. When a leader helps his subordinates to achieve their personal goals, he wins the admiration and adoration of such people. They hold the leader in high esteem and would be willing to stake all they have to ensure the leader's success.

Being quick to apportion blame

A selfish leader is quick to apportion blames when things go wrong. Great leaders take the blame when things go wrong in their team. If the team fails to deliver a project on schedule, they do not look for a fall guy; they take the blame and face the consequences even when they are not directly responsible for the cause of the delay. This is what binds them to their lieutenants.

A selfish leader is spurned by his people.

Losing integrity

If only leaders knew the extent of their influence on those they lead, they would do all in their power not to drop the ball. Usually good leaders are loved by their followers. Some leaders are so influential that their followers pattern their lives after their leaders. The followers believe so much in them that whatever the leader does is regarded as the best. Some followers have the hair cut identified with their leaders, wear the same type of dresses loved by their leaders, and in some cases, speak like their leaders. But that is for as long as the leader does not drop the ball. The day the leader loses his integrity, he is hated with the same passion as he was loved. So, leaders must continue to walk the highway of integrity.

How leaders lose integrity

Not walking the talk

To many followers, leaders are models. Nothing they do is wrong until they go wrong. One way of going wrong is to fail to walk the talk. When a leader who is regarded as a model fails to model what he has always said, his value dips.

Failure to keep promises

A leader should be conscious of the promises he makes because while every promise kept enhances dignity, every broken promise ebbs away the dignity of a leader. It is better for a leader not to make a promise than for him to make it and later break it. Fewer things destroy a leader's dignity more than a broken promise. One of the first lessons anyone in leadership must learn is to refrain from making promises they have no intention to keep.

Playing favouritism

Followers love and respect leaders who are fair because fairness is actually a respect to all concerned. When a leader plays favouritism, he is showing disrespect to the people under him and they will eventually reciprocate. When a leader establishes different sets of rules for different categories of followers, not only does he create ill-will among the followers, he also destroys the basis for his leadership. A leader should be trusted by all and held in high esteem by everyone. The only way to enjoy this is to be fair to everyone and not regard some as sacred cows or untouchable. The truth is that when a leader is fair to all even those who veer off the line and are sanctioned by the leader will still respect and love him because they know that his actions were not borne out of any ill feeling but based on principles. However, when a leader is unfair, even those who he tries to favour will not respect him.

Poor communication

Leaders often run into problem when they cannot communicate effectively. When leaders cannot communicate effectively, the relationship between him and others is affected. It is communication that opens the heart of the leader to the followers. Without effective communication both the leader and the followers are likely to work at cross purposes.

According to Aristotle, effective communication has little or nothing to do with the leader's gift of the gab but a lot with what he calls the three elements of great communication. Aristotle says whether a communication effort will cut an ice with the audience or not depends on ethos, pathos and logos of the speaker.

He says ethos is the credibility of the speaker. Whether a leader's speech will be believable or not depends on his credibility. This is not determined by what he promises to do but what he has already done; the reputation he has already built.

Ethos has two components; competence and integrity. The two are rooted in the leader's reputation. The followers would believe the leader if they are convinced that he has the competence to deliver on the promises being made and if they believe that breaking promises is not in line with the leader's character. The two have to do with reputation. So, for a leader to earn the trust of his followers, he must ensure that his reputation is not tarnished by any means.

Pathos has to do with making emotional connection with the audience. This is different from touching base with the audience or speaking their language; it is touching the audience's core, touching the listener's heart, communing with him. Pathos is making emotional appeal to the listener. It is the heart of the speaker touching the hearts of the listeners.

Many leaders fail to earn the trust of the people because they do not connect with them emotionally when discussing with them. Why does a leader have to keep repeating a point that seems lost on the people? The answer is simple; he has failed repeatedly to connect with them on the issue.

It is when a leader connects with the people emotionally that buy-in happens.

Logos is about the logic of the communication activity. Many leaders have little problem with this because it often has to do with the use of data; facts and figures. But facts and figures can be disfiguring for a leader who lacks the capacity to use them in driving home his point. For data to come useful to a leader, he must first have a handle on it.

Last line

Avoiding potholes does not prevent accidents on the highway. The best way out is to fix the potholes. Same goes for leadership.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Date:Jan 22, 2018
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