Ever hear of a pitfall trap? A pitfall trap is a container that is sunk into the ground so that its rim is flush with the soil surface. Insects and other ground dwelling creatures are captured when they fall into the trap. Obviously they do not see the trap otherwise they would go around it. I imagine their friends telling them to watch out for the trap or avoid the trap. I don’t even know if bugs have friends but it’s fun to think about. For whatever reason I ran into the description of a pitfall trap in some research I was doing and I was immediately drawn to it. As I was considering this, I was thinking about this trap from a leadership perspective. There are two leadership traps that leaders can fall into, both of which can have devastating effects on the culture of an organization or team. These two big leadership pitfalls are ego and insecurity.

Insecurity says we are here to please others and ego says others are here to please us. Both are toxic and can jeopardize the mission of the team or organization. How can we recognize these pitfalls in ourselves and others? This starts with some understanding of how they manifest themselves in individuals.

What does an insecure leader look like?

  • They surround themselves with people they can control. Insecure leaders hinder their organization because they don’t hire or attract the best people for a job. They attract people who are not as good as they are … people with less experience who can be controlled mentally or emotionally.
  • They misinterpret other people’s motives to fit their story. Insecure leaders have to be right. So they misinterpret what people do and why they do it to make themselves emerge the hero. When people stand up to insecure leaders, they write them off as jealous or arrogant. Motives get misrepresented so they can be wrong.
  • They look at those who work for them as employees, not their team. Insecure leaders don’t look for the best ideas. They can’t collaborate because they don’t value other people’s opinions. They prefer to forego extended work relationships, because it’s easier to fill your team with disposable cogs rather than friends and teammates you love and trust. They find their identity in how many people work for them rather than how many people they work with.
  • They consider anyone “disloyal” who disagrees with them. Insecure people don’t see people as people; they see them as either on their side or against them.They are the center of all things.
  • They mishandle conflict. Insecure leaders either avoid conflict through passive aggressive means, or they look at every situation as a potential conflict.They are either too soft and squishy or harsh and uncaring. Secure leaders handle conflict with truth and grace working together, because relationships matter more than being right.

What does an ego driven leader look like?

  • They are defensive. Defending ideas ultimately turns into becoming defensive.
  • They continually compare themselves to others. In truth, being too competitive actually makes them less competitive.
  • They seek acceptance to justify their ego needs. They crave respect and recognition from others, which eventually interferes with their success.
  • They make a point of showcasing their brilliance.

What is even more important than understand how these pitfalls manifest in individuals is finding a way to confront the behavior. There is not much you can do to make another person approachable, but as a leaders you can model this behavior. Make sure everyone on your team’s knows and understands your desire to be aware of these types of behaviors and give them permission to call you out if they see it in you. Make sure you have a few trusted people around you who are more comfortable telling you like it is.

The last thing your team needs is for you to fall in either of these pitfalls and be so far down in them that you can’t get out. Listen for your teams hints and clues that you may be leaning one way or the other. Walking with awareness is key to avoiding a trap that can be there when you can’t see it coming.

1 Comment

  1. Gary Gruber | Reply

    How about an article with the opposites of the insecurities and egotism of such leaders focused on secure leaders with appropriate ego-strength that is flavored with humility?

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