The dictionary first defines undermine as “eroding the base or foundation” and second as “damaging or weakening someone or something.” A river can undermine its banks and cause them to erode over time, and someone can undermine a leader and erode the leader’s credibility over time. Poor leaders undermine themselves far more frequently than others undermine them. Yet poor leaders are much more sensitive to others undermining them than they are to undermining themselves.
To avoid the self-inflicted wound of undermining yourself, here are five common traps to avoid:
1. Changing directions continually
Leaders who continually change directions reveal none of the directions were conviction-based. I am not referring to testing and trying things but to macro direction that impacts the whole. Leaders who constantly change directions undermine themselves and exhaust everyone else.
2. Not learning
Leaders who fail to learn grow stale in their leadership. Leaders who don’t learn will not lead teams of people who value development.
The cliché “paralysis by analysis” is a common phrase used to describe people who cannot pull the trigger on a decision without looking, yet again, at more and more data. While it is important to look at facts, include wise counselors, and never make decisions in isolation, there is a time to decide. Leaders who can’t decide leave the people they lead in a continual holding pattern.
Continually overpromising erodes trust. While leaders desire to set big goals, they must simultaneously be careful not to make promises that cannot be kept.
5. Not living the values
The biggest way leaders undermine themselves is by not living the vision and values they champion. A leader’s lack of commitment to the values that hang on a wall empty those values of any real culture-shaping authority.