Top 5 Pitfalls of New Leaders

| Chris Barrows | Values

Did you just promote a new leader on your team? Are you newly promoted yourself?

The adjustment is challenging for all parties involved.  Learning the new responsibilities and understanding the evolving relationship dynamics alone are a lot to handle.  Even with the best of intentions and support, new leaders stumble.

The growth process for new leaders is full of potential hidden stumbling blocks that we call “pitfalls”.  

When it comes to leadership development, we always liked to lean into common pitfalls.  We knew they would come up, so why not try to prepare the new leader for them?  We found that sharing “why” they occur and practicing pre-decision allowed our new leaders to better navigate their training process. 

Here are 5 common pitfalls of new leaders and how they can be avoided and overcome:

The Illusion of Knowledge

“Avoid the “illusion of knowledge” and be very self aware. Your team looks up to you and trusts you. It’s okay to say “I don’t know”.”  -Josh Rossmeisl

To prove that they deserve the new position, the newly promoted leader believes they need to prove that they “know things”.  Being a manager means they must be an expert, obviously.

This pitfall rears its head when a team member asks them a question, and they DON’T know the correct answer.

The last thing a new leader wants is to say “I don’t know” when a team member asks them a question.  It would crush their ego.  Instead of admitting they don’t know, they lie.  They make up an answer that sounds good enough, and try to skate by on this illusion of knowledge.

All this really accomplishes is slowing the team down and ruins their credibility with the team.

The great irony is that the person asking for help often understands better than the person lying, so they know the new leader is lying.  Respect is lost instantly.

To avoid this pitfall, it’s important that you provide psychological safety to the new leader.  Remove the pressure of them believing that they “need” to know.  Nothing bad will happen to them if they don’t know, and the appropriate response to give when they don’t know is to say “I don’t know, but let’s go find out together”. 

This vulnerability is easier said than done, but their honesty will build trust with the team over time.  Losing your integrity is worse than not knowing.

“Your word is everything. Don't overpromise and under deliver. There is nothing more important than your team.”  -Leo Neves

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Fire Fighting

It feels good to solve problems.  We all want to be the hero.  Early, it is appealing to new leaders to take pride in, and seek out opportunities to “fix” things.  To “put out fires”.  It’s where they find validation for the effort they are putting in.  They are there to save the day!

They are completely unaware of the things they miss as they are constantly in crisis resolution mode.  Resolving problems gets confused with actually solving them.

The challenge is to change perspective.  The job of the leader isn’t to put out “fires”, but to prevent them from happening.   This doesn’t come with a lot of recognition early on, but over time, they will see their credibility grow.   The win isn't getting credit for the save, it’s for protecting your team from the problem occurring to begin with.

Encourage reflection when something does go wrong, challenge them to understand “why”, and take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. 

Time Management

Time is finite, but we don’t properly account for it and often overcommit it.  You don’t get back sleep you miss and you don’t get more time to accomplish a task as the deadline approaches.  A week is a week, a day is a day and an hour is an hour.

New leaders love to overcommit, but are consistently behind simply because nobody has shown them how to structure their time.  They don’t feel safe enough to say “no” to an ask if they cannot properly contribute.

If a project has a 5pm deadline on Saturday, but you know that business dictates you will not have any admin time on Friday or Saturday, you need to know that your real deadline is Thursday and you must plan accordingly.

Time must be approached with intentionality.  When new leaders are given deadlines, it’s not enough to just let them walk off and hope they get it in on time.  You need to look at their week strategically and help map out when time can be blocked for that project.

There are few more important skills you can teach than helping someone audit their time.

Mar NewLeaders 600 Team

What got me here, will get me there.

There is a strong belief that the behaviors and actions that they exhibited are what got them promoted, and that’s true.  The fallacy is in believing that continuing those same behaviors will be good enough at the next level.

There is a humility necessary to step back and realize that leadership has very little in common with your previous position.  It’s great to want to build on the traits and virtues that made you successful, but the aim of the job is different.  

Being in an hourly position, you’re worried about your success.  When you become a leader, it becomes about the team’s success.  You need to be the team’s needs before your needs.

There are countless skills to refine and develop, and until you are humble enough to understand that your growth is just beginning, you will find yourself at a frustrating plateau where you struggle to find fulfillment.

“Shut up and listen. There may be an instinct to prove yourself and justify the faith the team has put in you through your promotion. That said, you are in this position because that's already been recognized! Now it's time for growth. Focus on learning mode, understanding processes and adopting best practices before trying to shake things up.”            -Doug Warner

Respect your training process.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  A beginner’s mind and a commitment to personal growth while putting the team’s needs first are the secret sauce for overcoming this complacency.

Someone Else Will Do it

There is a natural inclination to be passive in situations that seem to be “above my paygrade” and an assumption that someone else will take care of the problem.  Things slip by as surely somebody else will notice.

Safety is once again important, in that the new leader needs to know that if they make a mistake, that you will help them calibrate.  If they fear for their jobs if they make a wrong decision, you will find them in a perpetual state of indecision. 

They are going to make mistakes and it is okay as long as your decisions were guided by our values and lessons were learned from them.  Trust their instincts and make a decision.  Ask for help.  It’s part of the growth process.

This impacts the team as well.  Each time a leader assumes that someone else will address a coaching situation, so they don’t, their silence is approval.  What we permit, we promote.  They are viewed as a leader and as “somebody”.  Their actions are as meaningful as their inactions.


Leadership growth and development is a process and must be approached by all parties with vulnerability and candor.  Remove the fear by providing psychological safety, promote constant communication and guided reflection.  Embrace these learning opportunities and give the pitfalls a positive value on your leader’s growth and development.



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