We all make mistakes, that’s part of leadership. When you’re leading into the unknown and taking new territory it’s impossible to get everything right – all the time.

Some mistakes, however, are those unintended but avoidable missteps that slowly decrease your influence over time.

They are slow, subtle and therefore not as easily noticed. Your leadership isn’t affected right away like a more dramatic mistake, or bad decision might cause, but little by little your influence is eroded.

It’s like a prolonged leak in one of the tires in your car. You can keep driving for a long time, but eventually, the tire goes flat, and your forward progress comes to an end.

If you don’t fix it, you can’t go anywhere. Worse, I’ve seen some people attempt to drive on a flat with that thump, thump, thump thing happening, and we all know how well that goes.

The scary thing is that because these mistakes are usually slow and subtle as I mentioned, they often go unnoticed or unheeded. Even when someone points them out, the leader just keeps going. I’ve had that happen while driving my car.

At a stop light, a guy points at my tire and calls out loudly. “Your tire is low!” I motion back a friendly wave of acknowledgment, and think “yeah, right, maybe later. I’ve got to keep going right now.” Several days later I’m driving with a thump.

Leading with a thump just doesn’t work. When you know what these mistakes are, you can avoid them.

Together we could list a good number of this specific kind of mistake, but I’m presenting five of the more commonly experienced. If you have a minute, you can help us all lead better. List one more in the comment section. Thanks!

5 leadership mistakes that cause a slow leak in your influence:

1) Allowing speed and pressure to kill your kindness.

More people — more pressure right? We love people, and it’s a privilege to serve, but let’s be honest, it’s not easy to keep up with all the needs and requests.

Then add speed to the mix and leadership really becomes complex. “Faster” seems like a core leadership value these days. It’s not intentional, but just the way it is.

When speed and pressure are added together, simple kindness can get squeezed out of your daily relationships. That doesn’t indicate that you behave in an overtly mean way, it’s more about the absence of kindness. And that is always noticed and felt.

Those you lead will give you grace for a while, but over time this will catch up with you and decrease your influence.

Slowing down is difficult but necessary. Be intentional about expressing kindness to those you serve and lead.

2) Leading from emotion rather than thinking.

It’s always important to communicate with a sense of authentic emotion – straight from the heart. Leading with that kind of authenticity is just as vital.

However, emotionally driven leadership often delivers poor decisions, confusing or last-minute changes, and ideas that are incongruent with your core values.

When emotions such as discouragement, frustration, anger, or jealousy, etc., are allowed to shape your leadership behavior, you will slowly see a decrease in your overall influence.

Your best leadership always starts with your best thinking. Focused, disciplined and mature thinking is required for your best leadership. Demonstrate your leadership with lots of heart, but first, guide it with right thinking.

3) Questioning people rather than asking questions.

Great leaders ask great questions, but there is a significant difference between asking questions and questioning.

Insightful questions seek purposeful information to help someone. Questioning feels like an interrogation seeking to corner, trap, or even hurt someone.

Questions come from a need for understanding, questioning stems from an inherent place of distrust. It’s rare that a leader does this knowingly, but inner battles that result in things like fear and insecurity can flip questions to questioning.

Questions look for something that is there, questioning presumes upon things that are not there. This quickly decreases a leader’s influence.

4) Leveraging authority over empowerment.

Command and control may seem like an ancient leadership style, but it creeps into the mix more often than you might think.

Its more subtle forms are packaged in things like micro-management, using policy over influence, and pushing a personal agenda. These things will slowly erode anyone’s leadership.

Real empowerment is based on the foundation of trust and does not depend on org-chart based formal authority.

Authority may seem fast and efficient, and in the moment that’s true, but over the long run, authoritative leadership will cost you much of your influence.

Empowerment trusts, values and builds people up. Empowerment embraces freedom with guidelines and recognizes results.

5) Failing to do what you say you will do.

Failure to do what you say you’ll do may be one of the biggest and most common leadership mistakes there is, and it’s so easily avoidable.

I rarely recommend that anyone stop using phrases like: “I’ll do it, or “I’ll take care of it, etc.,” but that would be better than failing to do what you say. But the truth is that it wouldn’t address the real problem.

The real problem often originates in something as innocent as being forgetful or overly busy, but can also represent a character issue. Either way, it will eventually diminish your influence.

The people you serve and lead need to know they can count on you. It doesn’t matter if it’s something small like telling someone you’ll call them in the morning, or you’ll email the information they asked for. If you said you would, you absolutely must do it.


Avoid these “slow leak” leadership mistakes at all costs and your leadership will gain a distinct advantage.