How Leaders Can Get Out of Their Own WayBeing a leader is challenging in the best of times. Leaders are only as good as the information they receive (which is rarely complete or conveyed in a timely manner) and the resources they can marshal (usually, it seems, never enough). In the midst of execution, communications with the team can sometimes be misleading, imprecise, and just plain wrong.

Given all that, says Les McKeown, a contributor to Inc., why do so many leaders compound the difficulty “simply by getting in their own way?”

It happens when leaders add “self-imposed—albeit unconscious—constraints on their ability to lead well,” he adds.

According to McKeown, a bestselling author and CEO of Predictable Success, three scenarios in particular occur with such frequency we should look more closely at how we sabotage our own best efforts.

Victims of False Assumptions

Executives gather to address a pending key decision. Their discussion is candid and straightforward. People are engaged and forthcoming with ideas. So what’s the problem?

The problem is, as McKeown puts it, the discussion only covers “about 20 percent of the waterfront.” One or more of the leaders involved come to the discussion burdened with presuppositions that grow out of their personal experience and preferences, “some or all of which may or may not be relevant to the matter under discussion,” says McKeown. As a result, a range of potential solutions never get brought up at all.

Assumptions lurk in our subconscious, meaning we don’t usually hold them up for examination (even though we believe deeply in them).

McKeown suggests this corrective action: The next time you face an important decision, take a few minutes to think about all the presuppositions you might have concerning this issue. Write down your thoughts without editing or defending them. Share them with your colleagues at the meeting. A “much deeper, richer and effective discussion” will likely ensue he adds.

Make Your Plans Based on People, Not Roles

Rather than take actions based on the proper response to market demands, many leaders make key strategic decisions based on what they think their team can deliver. McKeown warns against lowering your standards and expectations because of your team’s limited range and abilities.

“If you have people in roles that aren’t capable of delivering what that role should be, your first priority is to upskill, coach, mentor, or hire that skill into your organization,” says McKeown.

If this sounds too intimidating to pull off, remember your competitors have no such hesitations. If they’re beating you in the marketplace, it’s because they’re tapping into their team’s best resources and they refuse to compromise on their strategic goals.

Delegate Only to Those You Trust

Trust is hard to come by, but when a team member has earned that trust, he or she falls into your mental “go-to” category. When an important task needs to be completed, leaders tend to assign it to that trusted colleague, regardless of the situation. This tendency “makes leaders lazy and teams weak.”

There’s nothing wrong with relying on a person you can trust, but this person can’t do everything. Others on the team will become resentful and demoralized, particularly if they don’t see a way to break into your trust-system.

When you fall back on one person to get things done, McKeown says, “You’re subconsciously abdicating one of the most important tasks of leadership: The hard work involved in building and spreading trust in your team as a whole.”

Leading isn’t always easy, and we often get in our own way. They key is to recognize when we make our already stressful job more complicated.

What assumptions are getting in your way as a leader?

Thanks to Ego Friendly for the image.