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7 Potholes That Can Destroy Your Leadership

We all know the stories of a once successful pastor or leader who flamed out too soon. It could be a moral failure or burnout, but somewhere they got off track and had a hard time regaining traction. So sad.

In years of studying leadership, both in the business world and in ministry, I’ve seen some consistent traps which get in the way of a leader’s long-term success. I’m referring to them as potholes.

These potholes can become deep, and when they do, and you hit them, you can literally lose your leadership influence.

Often, also in my experience, if we know the potential dangers we have a better chance of addressing them – and, hopefully even avoiding them.

Here are 7 potholes that can destroy your leadership:


When a leader ever feels he or she has all the answers – watch out! Pride comes before the fall. And I’m convinced it’s the most unattractive leadership trait we can have.

Great leaders remain humble, knowing they didn’t get where they are on their own nor will they stay there without the help of others.


Leadership is hard some days – okay, it’s hard most days. Good leadership isn’t a popularity contest. The leader afraid to challenge will create an environment where mediocrity, chaos, and unhealthy team environment prevails – and eventually it will bite them.

Leaders should be willing to address known concerns, not be afraid of healthy conflict, and challenge status quo even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.


A leader who removes his or herself too much from the people doing the actual work, who isn’t visible to their team, or who doesn’t bond well with them never gains significant influence. Even worse, they are more vulnerable to failing personally, as well. As much as the enemy loves busyness, he works also in isolation. Sin festers in an absence of accountability.

At every level of leadership and regardless of the size organization, the more a leader can do “hands on” work, even if only occasionally, the more “in touch” the leader will be. And the more respected he or she will be by the people trying to follow.


Leadership can be lonely. Every leader I know has struggled with it at some level. They feel they are alone to make the vast number of decisions before them. It may seem no one understands the weight responsibility they have.

If a leader doesn’t address this, and ask for help when needed, especially during extremely high stress periods, the leader could be heading towards crash and burn territory.

Leaders should seek out other leaders, take risks on trusting a few people, and be willing to ask for help before it’s too late.


I have often said boredom is one of the leading causes of marital failure. It’s true in leadership also. Leadership is about going somewhere. When things get routine for too long, the best leaders will get bored – and boredom can be dangerous.

Leaders who last for the long haul are always seeking new opportunities for growth and development.


Just as failure can hurt a leader, so can success. If not kept in check, success can lead to complacency. A leader can begin to think it will always be this way and eventually start taking success for granted. Disaster! These leaders are soon fighting for the success “fix” again – and often make tremendous errors in the process.

Great leaders are always cognizant the success today isn’t guaranteed tomorrow – so they keep working on developing themselves, their team, and the organization.


When a leader becomes “too good” for the people trying to follow – they stop serving a team and start managing people chasing a paycheck. They quit finding willing followers and are only surrounded by employees. Leaders, especially today, have to be authentic, real, and believable.

There are always people on a team who believe they could do a better job than the leader – and the reason they feel this way is because it’s probably true in some situations where they have more expertise. Teams are developed by mutual respect and appreciation.

Great leaders never see themselves better than the people they are trying to lead. In fact, the best leaders I know purposefully surround themselves with smarter people.

What other “potholes” have you seen in leadership?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • David says:

    1. If you are lonely in your role, you are not a leader.
    2. Like in business, but even more so: a ‘leader’ is one who exercises social influence, provides information, provides resources, and coaches their team. But, biggest of all, a leader equips people to get things done. The best leadership is to have a group of peers. In my leadership roles, I’ve treated my group of direct reports as my management committee, sounding board, coaches and even mentors. Don’t confuse real-world leadership with the mythical leadership of movies, the pulp business press or imaginary figures in history.
    3. To be a good leader you have to be firstly a good manager (leadership is the human component of management; don’t let the booksellers tell you otherwise), and in parallel a person who seeks others to succeed and grow, then secondly, a humble and godly person, remembering Philippians 2:3,4.

  • Don Taylor says:

    What can lay leaders in a church do to minimize loneliness/potential burnout in a Pastor?

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      Don, that’s a great and welcome question. I think a few things. First, the pastor obviously has to be open to it. Many pastors have been burned by trusting someone in the church to be their “friend”. I would even say most pastors. But give them margin of time to have a real social life and not always be “ministering”. Afford them the opportunity to go to conferences, pastor retreats, etc. And truly love and encourage them. I wrote some thoughts in this post:

      Thank you.

      • Clive says:

        Don, I didn’t know that you ranked questions asked of you. I get the picture that some questions are ‘great’. You love answering them, others are ‘good’, as in ‘that’s a good question’. You probably don’t mind answering them either. Then I guess you have ‘ordinary’ questions, ‘weak’ questions, ‘poor’ questions and just plain junk questions. Have you tried the full spectrum of question grading, as in ‘thank you, ma’am, for that question, as it is a poor question, I’ll not devote much time to it…;

        Best to not qualify questions, after all, the questioner goes out on a limb and being an implied fool (that is, not having had his or her question congratulated) can only discourage a timid questioner.

        Remember, the questions are about the questioner, not about your grading of them. All you need to say is ‘thanks for that question’…or just nothing at all but answer it humbly.