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Leadership is about taking action to bring about change.  It can be to produce better results.  It can be to change the culture or environment in your company.  It can be about establishing a core set of values.  It certainly is about getting your team to buy-in to the big picture of your company’s mission and goals.

These steps require actions of doing.   Just think about the core attributes of leadership – inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, leading by example, and celebrating success.  They all require an action to trigger better production, a better work culture, and a new and improved way of doing business.  And leadership is always about moving forward and never settling for the status quo.

But as a leader it is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the journey.  We are all human and things happen.  As a leader we must try to anticipate the things that might happen that are not good and we must be ready to respond.   As a leader, we must try to implement actions that will help your team as best you can from avoiding making bad decisions and bad mistakes.

Think about the sports world.  How many times have you heard a football coach say “we must stay out of the bad play,” meaning avoid getting negative yards on a play that put the team in a more difficult position for a first down?  Or, the basketball coach lamenting the “unforced errors” committed by his team during a game in which they recklessly turn the ball over without interference from the defense?

Leadership is about driving forward.  Looking out over your shoulder, indecisiveness and waiting for things to happen can paralyze your company’s ability to make key decisions and improve the process.

But there are a few leadership traps that can create problems for your team.  Here are a few I have learned over the years.  If you can avoid traps you will be even more successful as a leader:

  • Don’t procrastinate. As a leader you team needs you to make quick decisions and not let matters go unresolved for too long.  You may need a little time to make that decision but make it in good time!  A lack of response will raise questions among your staff and hinder your efforts in being an effective leader.
  • Don’t over think things. Analytics, analytics, analytics.  We are in a time when we are such focused on metrics that we are getting paralyzed by analytics.  We all know the importance of using date to help inform decisions.  But at the end of the day it is a combination of analytics and good instincts that will help you make your decisions.  Don’t discount your judgement or some would say your “gut feelings.”  You earned this leadership role because you have exhibited excellent judgement and instincts in producing results.
  • Know when you need to pull back the reins. Leaders are typically hard charging and want big results fast!  As a leader you must challenge your team to challenge the process to improve better outcomes for the organization.  But as a leader you must also know when to take the foot off the gas and slow the pressure down a bit.  I liken it to the famous speech given by Coach Knute Rockne to his Notre Dame players at halftime of the 1928 Army game.  Rockne was trying to salvage his worst season as a coach and told the story of the tragic death of the greatest player ever at ND, George Gipp.  Rockne charged his team to really lay it on the line and “win one for the Gipper.”  Notre Dame went out and won the game.  But Coach Rockne, or any coach for that matter, can’t use that same motivational speech every week because it would become old, lose its luster, and the players wouldn’t respond as they did against Army.  The same goes for your leadership style.  Push, but if you keep pushing too hard all the time you will lose your team!  Know when to go fast and know when to recognize that your team may need you to pull back the reins.
  • Don’t rest on your laurels. Be careful not to get caught up in your success.  Don’t become complacent and get overly impressed with your leadership ability.  Stay hungry and stay focused.  A good leader knows that success must be recognized and celebrated but you must move on and keep everybody focused on the pursuit of continuous improvement.
  • Ignoring or overlooking potential problems. When problems arise, deal with them.  Even in a great work environment issues and problems will surface.  Don’t ignore the problems thinking they will go away.  A great leader must address the issue immediately and take the necessary actions to remedy the situation.  Ignoring or overlooking problems can eventually spread and hurt the culture you have worked hard to establish.  Follow these tips and you will avoid potential traps as a leader!!

About the Author (

Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience.  He has directed three major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership.  He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit.