Posted October 04, 2018

COACHING MINUTE: 3 Ways to Overcome Common Leadership Pitfalls

By Chad Wolbers, MHA, FACHE

As an elementary student at Holy Trinity School in the north end of Dubuque, Iowa, I recall Sister Carla pointing out to my first-grade class that we were all, in fact, sinners. As we looked around the room at one another, wondering whom had committed what sins, she broke our stunned silence by confessing, “and that also includes me.” Her point to us was that nobody is perfect.

That statement remains as true today as it did the day she spoke those words back in 1978.  Fast forward to the present day, moving away from the classroom and into our offices and board rooms, leadership “sins”, or pitfalls, are still being committed. As such, let me be the first to confess that I’ve made many mistakes as a leader and coach. So, today I’d like to confess a few of the transgressions for which I have been frequently guilty over the course of my 20-year career in healthcare. I’ll also seek to help you learn from my mistakes by including some ideas for how to be a better, albeit imperfect, leader:

Leadership Pitfall:

Not following diagnosis
with treatment

This is a concept that has been ingrained within all of our coaches at Studer Group, and in turn, all of our partners, via our Driving Performance Model. You must diagnose before you treat. But equally important, once you know the diagnosis, you must act. It is a harsh truth that by not following diagnosis with action, you’re sending the message to your team that you’re either incompetent, uncaring or both.

Make It Right:

Commit to following through with
transparent action plans

Whether it be via software like the Leader Evaluation Manager® or on paper, create and consistently communicate your action plans for areas that need improvement. Extra credit for involving your team when creating them. This instills a commitment to see the proposed action through to the end.

Leadership Pitfall:

Failing to recognize improvement

As leaders, we want to get amazing results fast.  Who doesn’t? That said, you may be failing to recognize pivotal improvement milestones that could actually serve to propel you further faster. By not recognizing improvement (and not just the achievement of the final goal) as a win, you may unknowingly be contributing to leader burnout and, ultimately, to an inability to reach and sustain top-tier results.

Make It Right:

Proactively set incremental and realistic goals

Post and repeatedly communicate the achievement of these mini-goals as road signs telling your team they’re on the right track. And don’t forget to celebrate. Use a variety of reward and recognition approaches, including handwritten thank-you notes to employees’ homes, to keep leader engagement, confidence and motivation high!

Leadership Pitfall:

Not embracing your humanness
through vulnerability

When Sister Carla confessed that she was a sinner to my first-grade class, she was vulnerable to us. As a result, we were drawn to her and her message. Her example and ability to connect with us is a lesson we can all still learn from today.

Make It Right:

Ask your employees: “How can I be a better leader for you and our department?”

From my experience, often they will not answer this question. It’s the fact that you had the courage to ask the question that is the main point here. What’s more, in my experience, employees frequently answer the question with something they appreciate about your leadership.

Sister Carla was right. Nobody’s perfect, and in our hectic and stressful lives, it is understandable when leaders commit transgressions. We’ve all been there. But, if you embrace my suggestions and work to overcome these leadership pitfalls, you still might not be perfect, but you will indeed be a much more effective and confident leader for your team.


  • Chad Wolbers

    Chad Wolbers, MHA, FACHE

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