Leadership Sin

People regularly lose their golden opportunity to lead for one of three reasons. They either don’t recognize, or refuse to stop doing those things followers despise.  What leadership sin do employees and followers detest? Keep reading.


In a personal quest to be a better leader, I’ve read hundreds of articles and books on leadership effectiveness. During my work as a corporate manager, I sat through countless presentations and leadership training programs. And as a leadership speaker, trainer and author, I’ve shared what I’ve learned with tens of thousands of people who are on the same mission.

So what are my take aways?

  1. Virtually any individual can lead if s/he will help followers realize their wants and needs.
  2. Those same followers will commit to following (supporting) leaders who genuinely listen to, understand and support them.

Two simple leadership truths.

So why then do so many otherwise capable leaders struggle to build positive influence with employees and followers? The answer is simple, but not necessarily comfortable.


IGNORANCE: Defined as a lack of knowledge or information

Here’s a quick activity. List all the things you know little to nothing about. (NOTE: You’re going to need a lot of paper.) My list includes aerodynamics, the Chinese Lunisolar Calendar and the mesmerizing appeal of Junie B. Jones on my young granddaughters.

I admit it. Each is a mystery to me. So I’m ignorant — seriously lacking in knowledge and information — regarding these topics. However, presently none of these affect my leadership performance. But if that changes, I’ll immediately be in search of additional information to expand my knowledge and understanding.

Some leaders blissfully suffer from chronic ignorance of issues affecting their leadership responsibilities. As a result, leaders like that are in real danger. Leaders must have ready access to appropriate information and the know-how to use it appropriately. Followers expect no less.

So when (not if) ignorance overtakes you, it’s best to admit it and go get the information and knowledge required. Followers want to see their leader making reasonable efforts to eliminate personal ignorance.

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INCONSISTENCY: Defined as the fact or state of not staying the same throughout

Okay, you’re reducing, even eliminating, personal ignorance in key leadership areas. As a result, you’re gaining new insight into tasks, skills and processes appropriate for team integration, growth and advancement. And you’re feeling pretty good. Don’t blow it! Commit to consistency.

Over the years, I’ve heard many leaders ridicule their followers for a perceived unwillingness to “get on board” when new initiatives or processes have been introduced. Often leaders interpret this hesitancy as proof positive of a lack of follower commitment.

But not so fast. I’ve found the opposite to be true. Followers are generally willing to commit, but not until they’re sure leaders have done likewise. Once the leader is all in, the followers will be, too.

We’ve all seen bold initiatives announced, promoted and instituted with great fanfare. Sadly, we’ve also seen those same initiatives brushed aside when the next best bright, shiny initiative materializes.

Followers universally crave leadership consistency. They want consistency in word, deed, attitude and actions. And followers want to know a commitment on their part won’t result in wasted time, effort and heightened frustration. They despise inconsistent commitments. It’s virtually impossible to rally around a haphazard, unfocused leader.


ARROGANCE: Defined as having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities

Socrates: “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”

Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”

Ronald Reagan: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.”

Sam Dunning: “I’d like to buy him for what he’s really worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.”

Over the years I’ve collected dozens of perspectives on practical leadership.  These four are among my favorites. The authors are generally recognizable, except maybe the fourth. Sam Dunning, who is he? He’s my brother-in-law. Really.

I’ve never met a more practical man than Sam. He’s a Vietnam combat veteran and a lifelong heavy equipment operator. Sam is a working man’s working man. He’s dealt with a lot of leaders in his day and he seldom minces words. And the leadership trait he finds most distasteful? Arrogance. And he’s not alone.

Socrates, Schweitzer and Reagan’s words were projected from lofty intellectual perches. Each reinforces the idea that exceptional leadership is based on conscious intention, positive example and due recognition regarding the contributions of followers.

Sam’s words are far from lofty. They’re gritty. They rise up from the trenches. They come from the perspective of a working man. And they forcefully remind us that exceptional leadership is only possible when the leader thinks more highly of followers than of self.

Build a consistent, knowledgeable team of servant leaders. Ask us how.

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Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE, Founder & Chair, Van Hooser Leadership. A seasoned leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author, Phillip Van Hooser is passionate about developing intentional leaders who can effectively engage and empower their employees to deliver powerful results. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn.


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