Common Mistakes Good Leaders Make

Leadership is difficult, now more than ever. With that thought in mind, consider the following recurring challenges Situational Leaders encounter and work their way through!

First Impressions

Steps 1 and 2 of the Situational Leadership® Model (Identify the specific task and assess current Performance Readiness®) are both grounded in the DIAGNOSTIC competency. That competency is manifested by the leader’s ability to ask the right questions, pay attention to the right things and remain objective. In this regard, Situational Leaders are thoughtful people. They know the style they eventually employ will be a function of the answers they identify as they work their way through Steps 1 and 2. One of the easiest ways for a leader to get off track is to cheat those steps and over-trust first impressions, gut-level feel and intuition. There is no “exact-science” blueprint to follow, of course, but one thing is for certain: if a leader misdiagnoses (the task or the person performing it) the probability of a style match is significantly reduced. Successful Situational Leaders, not unlike successful physicians, are distinguished first and foremost by the accuracy of their diagnostic capabilities.

Removing Accountability 

One of the primary ways a leader adds value in an organization is by accelerating the development of those they influence. Occasionally, with the best of intentions, those leaders can sabotage their own efforts. Consider a talented member of a hypothetical team that is clearly frustrated as he approaches his boss and asks for help on a challenging project. The boss is at an interesting fork in the leadership road! Is it a better developmental strategy to “jump in,” provide assistance and help solve the problem or to quietly encourage the employee to work through the obstacles, come up with a solution and own it?  But, in balancing the search for more detail, at least consider the notion that far too often managers unwittingly assume responsibility by providing their advice and (in so doing) remove accountability and the opportunity for significant development. William Oncken was one of the first to address this dynamic when he published his Harvard Business Review (HBR) classic: “Managing Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” Successful Situational Leaders realize that engineering the development of others is a product of giving direction when it is needed and allowing people to chart their own course when it is not.

Low Does NOT Mean NO!

There is so much about leadership that is easy to understand — but truly difficult to do! One aspect that fits that description is spending dedicated, quality time with your highest performers. How simple does that sound? How much “common sense” does that make? But, unfortunately, how much distance is there between real-world “common practice” and that “common sense?” Why? It’s primarily because leaders are in high demand. Their schedules are crammed full of one competing priority after another and a significant amount of their time, effort and energy is spent helping members of their team with moderate to low Performance Readiness® develop task-specific proficiency. Leadership styles S1, S2 and S3 are comparatively time-intensive. It is easy to fall into a trap where you “trust” your high performers to deliver results and focus most of your attention elsewhere. Situational Leaders recognize that R4 to R3 regression is primarily a function of high performers that feel underappreciated and wind up losing motivation and/or commitment. As such, they fully operationalize the credo that “low relationship behavior does NOT mean NO relationship behavior!”


  1. Which of the three mistakes listed resonates most with you?
    1. Why?
  2. What are other common pitfalls Sitautional Leaders encounter?