The Challenges of Leadership

April 19, 2024

Over the decades of working with people from a variety of industries, I’ve heard countless stories and accounts of tense, challenging or plain miserable work conditions stemming from ineffective, poorly trained, unsupportive or just bad leadership. 

It’s an unfortunate reality that just because someone may be in the role of manager or leader doesn’t mean they are fully ready or wholly equipped to fulfill the role. 

The Importance of Soft Skills in Management 

While expertise in the organization’s product and systems is important, managerial and leadership success is largely determined by their level of “soft skills”, or their ability to understand, listen to, communicate with and strengthen the people on their team. 

Such soft skills require elements of both mindset and interpersonal skills to fulfill the role effectively and meet the responsibilities inherent in guiding others. 

In the blogpost, I define 4 common pitfalls managers face and tips for how to redirect, shift and carve out a more functional way to lead . 

Identifying Common Pitfalls for Managers

There are a number of different organizational issues and personality styles that can lead to both bad management and poor working relationships and alternatively that can lead to healthy and functional work relationships and organizations.

The 4 pitfalls listed below build upon one another as follows…

Pitfall 1: Inadequate Direction or Support

An organization with an unclear mission, vision or values statement is ripe for disorder. Clarity of organizational purpose and defining appropriate goals and identifying the values that drive how work is to be carried out and for the team to align with and embody is absolutely imperative.

Managers and teams who are provided and/or seek out clear direction about the mission of their organization and the work they are charged to focus on will fare far better than those who are unmoored or left out on a lurch to figure things out on their own or who are afraid to seek out clarity and direction. 

Additionally, an organization that regularly encourages leadership and teams to reflect upon the mission, vision and values has a stronger chance to live a lot longer and more successfully.

*Tip: Managers need to be uber clear about the mission, vision, values statement of the organization they are part of.  Review it with your manager and your team and provide space for any questions or clarifications around any possible inconsistencies and misunderstandings.

Pitfall 2: Self-Centered Leadership

When a leader places more focus and importance upon their own needs for recognition, success, a sense of power or to be liked over addressing and tending to the needs of their team everyone can suffer greatly. 

A self-centered, immature, unaware, or ill-intentioned manager can undoubtedly impede or sabotage the growth of their team and handicap an organization as a whole. 

Tip: A manager’s true power comes from how they empower their team to be their best. Shifting from a perspective of “my team is here to serve me so I can shine” to the perspective of “I am here to serve my team so they can shine and we can all work together to meet the goals of our team” is a far healthier and productive vantage point. A manager is there to lead and guide not to control or micromanage or use people for their own self-gain. 

Pitfall 3: Mismanagement of Conflict

Inherent in conflict-avoidance is the tendency to view conflict as bad or unwanted. When any person is placed in the role of leader of others, they are stepping into a space that will inevitably yield feedback that may feel charged at times or be hard to hear or feel sticky, icky or tense. 

Not all conflict or disparate views are dangerous or deleterious to a team and organization. In fact research points to the importance of open communication to the overall health of an organization. When different viewpoints and feelings are welcome to be expressed honestly and trusted they can be heard and attended to by management with compassion and true desire to work it through, working relationships and environments can be strengthened not threatened.

Tip: Managers need to recognize the value in hearing what their team really thinks and feels and learn how to work through their own interpersonal challenges to addressing conflictual ideas and scenarios. A manager who is able to model openness, empathy and when possible adaptation to different conflictual ideas, feelings and situations will be better able to serve the team as a whole and create a culture of safety, openness and cohesiveness. 

Pitfall 4: Vague, Indirect or Harsh Communications Styles 

I had a manager once who was vague in defining goals and who would avoid directly asking for what they needed from me and my team. They were kind and gentle and yet incredibly frustrating to work with and our team did not have a lot of respect for them. 

Another manager I had at another company was harsh and critical and most everyone on the team was crippled with fear whenever we needed to have a conversation about anything with them. 

Then there was another supervisor, David (and if you’re reading this, you know who you are) David was real, relatable, took time to listen and was very clear when communicating about what was needed and expected. David provided direction and guidance when it was needed but did not micromanage. And since David was my supervisor while I was in graduate school, he was approachable and flexible when I needed more time or support. David was a dream to work for. 

Misguided, unclear and manipulative communications have a strong impact on a team’s sense of safety and motivation to show up in their role. Managers who struggle with expressing what is needed from their team and who struggle with expectations for their team with respect to work goals in clear and kinder ways may end up alienating their team. 

Tip: Verbal and written communications that are specific, clear, descriptive and kinder are much more effective in fostering connection and continued motivation than the blanket, global response. Consider hearing,  “You’re doing great, keep it up” vs “How you patiently helped your client through that challenge was admirable” or “When will you be complete with project X” vs. “I wanted to check in and see where you were at on X project and if you need any support from me to help reach the (name specific goal) by the end of the week?”  

Managers who are better able to reflect upon how they communicate, take in feedback from their team and make adjustments as needed will have a far greater impact on the success of their team and organization as a whole.

Lasting Effects of Good Management

Numerous studies have shown the strong link between managerial effectiveness including a manager’s ability to empathize, guide, support and lead their team towards growth and productivity and employee satisfaction and retention.

Even if a new manager gets off to a rocky start, everyone in the organization can benefit when a manager takes the time and garners support to nurture their growth, work out the kinks in their managerial style, shift their perspective on their role, and work through and improve poor communication habits and their ability to have hard conversations. 

The best managers and leaders are those who recognize the power in embracing change, humanity and seeing the value inherent in their people and themselves beyond the tactical skill expertise. 


Entwistle, T., Doering, H. Amoral Management and the Normalisation of Deviance: The Case of Stafford Hospital. J Bus Ethics 190, 723–738 (2024).

Hogan, R., Kaiser, R. B., Sherman, R. A., & Harms, P. D. (2021). Twenty years on the dark side: Six lessons about bad leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 73(3), 199–213.

Guillemin, M., & Nicholas, R. (2022). Core Values at Work—Essential Elements of a Healthy Workplace. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(19), 12505.

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