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I was in a hurry to get to a meeting across town and traffic was horrible. I decided to take a shortcut. I had been the new way only one other time, but remembered it well enough to believe it would be faster.

I turned several streets to navigate through a subdivision, back on to a main road, and then through another subdivision. Just as I was about to get to the road I needed to be on the road was permanently closed to through traffic. It had apparently been closed for some time.

Had I checked before attempting to go this direction, probably even long enough for Google maps to pick up on it, I could have avoided this roadblock. I essentially had to completely backtrack and get into the same traffic jam again. Only this time I was even twenty minutes later.

So, much for my shortcut.

It reminded me, however, of something I’ve observed in leadership. There are roadblocks in good leadership too, some of them we are aware of and some, which no one ever pointed out to us.

I’ve witnessed many leaders, including myself at times, become distracted from leading, as well as we should.

Many times it’s a natural occurrence. We aren’t feeling well physically or emotionally. Life struggles distract us and our attention to our work isn’t what we would want it to be. These times come in seasons.

There could be a problem with someone else on the team, which must be dealt with before you can move forward. These are usually seasonal and mostly unavoidable distractions. These are natural roadblocks every leader faces.

Everyone faces roadblocks.

It’s the roadblocks in leadership, which we can avoid that tend to be most damaging. They detract from growth and destroy organizational health. If they aren’t addressed, it can set a leader back months, years, even an entire career.

As leaders, we must avoid these roadblocks, as much as possible.

Here are 5 roadblocks to good leadership:

Abusing power rather than extending power

Some leaders try to control every outcome, but end up wasting the valuable talent of others on the team. They limit the team’s possibilities to those the leader is capable of personally producing. As long as a leader refuses to release authority to others there will be a roadblock in the way of the ultimate potential of the organization.

The strength of the organization is in the strength of the team – and everyone on the team.

Making excuses for a weakness, rather than learning from failure

These leaders never admit a fault or mistake – for themselves or the organization – even though everyone around them sees it. They hide flaws, pretend everything is “awesome”, and try to make you believe life couldn’t be better. The underlying problems of the team are never addressed or corrected. Strengths aren’t fully maximized because more energy goes to covering up places which aren’t wonderful.

I saw this in the business world and I was the culprit. During a season when we were struggling to make payroll I tried to hide from my banker and my employees. I should have made friends instead who could have helped me navigate through the season. In the church, I’ve watched well-meaning people ignore the real problems. They refuse to admit the trouble on the horizon. They won’t ask hard questions. They mask the troubles, but it is only stalling their ability to recover.

Favoring popularity over progress

I’ve seen leaders who care more about people liking them than about achieving the goals of the organization. When this is the roadblock complacency and mediocrity become standards instead of excellence. Compromise is chosen over collaboration. Conflict is avoided and people will hear what they want to hear, but everyone (other than a few naysayers) is disappointed with the end results.

Holding grudges instead of building bridges

I once worked with a leader who would never allow anyone to challenge him personally. Whenever he felt threatened he “blackballed” you into compliance or worked to get rid of you.

These type leaders are diligent about protecting their image or reputation, so if you appear to question them they pit others on the team against you. They make it very difficult for people to know whether the leader is pleased with their efforts. Their style creates turf wars among team members as people scramble to meet the leader’s approval. Sides are chosen and the team’s abilities to effectively work together is limited.

Waiting for the perfect conditions rather than taking a risk

These leaders refuse to take steps of faith. They demand every detail be answered before a project is launched. They seldom place faith in other people because it’s too risky. This roadblock results in bored cultures and teams, slow or no growth, and eventual declines. The opportunity cost with this distraction is exponential.

I’m certain there are others. This list is only intended to get you thinking. Be honest, have you been a leader with one of these roadblocks? Again, we all throw up roadblocks at times in our leadership. We must attempt to eliminate those which cause the greatest disruption to progress. Discovering them and tearing them down may be a key to providing good leadership.

What roadblock would you add to my list?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • Bill Pence says:

    Hi Ron. Thanks for your article. One roadblock I thought of was not getting to know the people you lead well enough. What do you think about that? As I thought more about it, I ended up writing a short article"

    Thanks for your good work.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks Bill. I agree. Certainly the people who report directly to you. Good article.

  • Duncan M. says:

    Leaders are expected to be bold, wise, elevate, good communicators, and the list can go on. All these responsibilities weight a lot on the leader's shoulders and, as a result, these detours seem to be a good idea to avoid failures. But just like in most cases, the crowded and harder road is the safest to take. Once we manage to acknowledge these roadblocks, we are one step closer to wise decisions.

  • jimpemberton says:

    Oh, and one other roadblock may be following a momentary trend blindly. I'm pulling an example from the business world. A competitor of an American company picked up and moved the manufacturing plant to a foreign company to take advantage of cost savings in labor. We've all seen this trend. Fearing that a similar move may be necessary in order to stay competitive, the board of directors of the American company met to discuss options. They made a commitment to stay in the US and make it work… somehow. It was a risk. But they managed to make enough nickle and dime cost savings to stay competitive. Those cost savings efforts continue today. Now the American company is healthier than ever and the major competitor that moved out of the country has closed their doors. You don't have to always jump on the bandwagon to do what everyone else is dong in order to keep your organization healthy. Just do what's right as difficult as it is and the rewards may surprise you.

  • jimpemberton says:

    I 'm surprised no one mentioned having to lead subordinates or in the context of a leadership board. That's a perceived roadblock I see all the time, although it's not really a roadblock. So I'm glad no one mentioned it. I can just see people thinking, "I've got a great plan, but I have to get it past the deacon board, and I know there will be opposition." Councils of church leaders like that exist for a good reason (accountability) and they should never be seen as a roadblock.

    I also notice that the roadblocks you have listed are flaws in the leader himself. There are roadblocks that are outside of the leader's control. These should be seen as providential, even if frustrating, but we can't always assume we know God's reasons for setting roadblocks. You either work through them in spite of them, or count your losses and try something else. Then in hindsight, recognize what God was doing if he let you and give thanks to him for it. So one internal roadblock may be not recognizing God's hand in the external roadblocks.

  • John Armstrong says:

    Funny, when I read this I think of half a dozen people. Ironically, most of us have had to work thru these and need to continue being sensitive to them.

  • Mike says:

    Great article. Wish I could send this to several spiritual leaders I know who have and continue to use their position to promote and abuse the body of Christ.

  • Terry says:

    I would say that these 5 Roadblocks can also be an indication that the leader is not feeling well emotionally. Most behaviour feels ‘functional’ for the person demonstrating the behaviour – even though it often feels ‘disfunctional’ for the people on the receiving end. So we need to think what function would these behaviours serve the leader? My guess, is that the leader is feeling too vulnerable and threatened and needs to protect himself/herself if they are going to have the strength and confidence to carry on leading.

    In these difficult economic conditions I think most leaders feel vulnerable and threatened. It’s a tough job being a leader today. To help leaders to get around these roadblocks themselves I think we need to help them to come to terms with, and accept, feeling vulnerable. If they can do this they will become much more open, authentic, and confident in their leadership.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article.

  • @Bryankr says:

    For me it was a matter of fear. I was afraid if I lost control, it would not be completed; I thought it had to be done in my sight before it was actually done, or at least done on my schedule. It really came down to insecurity, this is a battle God is still winning, not all at once, to be sure, but winning none the less.

  • Sticking to status quo rather than embracing change for better.

  • cgambill says:

    Unfortunately, I have lived/worked under some of these roadblocks. But I also realize that being these roadblocks is never as far away as we may think. For me, it's a constant growth curve to be sure others are having opportunity to lead and have authority.

  • Jackie

    No dead ends, just detours.
    Greta post!

  • John Harris says:

    Perhaps also "a superior who has a smaller vision" can hold you back as well…

  • Dan Black says:

    Many times waiting for perfect conditions has been a road block in my life. I'm learning though their is never a perfect time to act. So when I face this roadblock, I now focus on acting instead of waiting. Doing this has helped me a lot. Great thoughts.

  • It's like Spiderman's Uncle Ben always said: "With power comes great responsibility." As leaders, we have power—and, therefore, we have a great deal of responsibility as well. You've given me a lot to think about, and I'm excited to share your blog post with my church's leadership team—I think they'll have a lot to learn, like I did!

  • Noah Lomax says:

    I know that more often than I care to admit I have been guilty of the last one. I can think of several opportunities I missed because I did not just commit: speaking engagements, job opportunities, and even recreational activities. While I believe in preparation, that should never become an excuse for lack of action! Many times it is simply fear of failure or fear of missing out on something better.

    Thanks for the helpful post!