NextGen Know-How: The Top 3 Things That Hold Leaders Back

three old fashioned silver keys on a blue wooden background
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

4 minutes

Focus, engagement and delegation are key to successfully leading your credit union team.

Transitioning into a leadership role for the first time can feel overwhelming and uncertain. More often than not, new managers aren’t provided training on where to focus their time and energy for successful leadership.

Although there are many negative habits that can hold leaders back from success, in my experience, new managers (and tenured managers and executives!) particularly struggle with these three areas that can prevent them from growing into influential, successful leaders.

1. Lack of Focus

Most leaders struggle to prioritize their many projects and tasks and become overwhelmed. The ability to focus is one of the most important leadership skills today. To be able to focus, you need clarity. If you don’t have clarity around strategic, departmental or daily goals, you will spin your wheels, spend your days only putting out fires and not get anything of value accomplished. Yet most leaders operate this way.

Here are some common examples of habits that contribute to lack of focus:

  • Not prioritizing your to-do list
  • Not planning your day
  • Too many distractions
  • Having email open all day
  • Not blocking time in your calendar to focus on one thing
  • Not scheduling priorities in your calendar

Most leaders are activity focused, not results focused.

If you don’t have clarity as a leader, this trickles down to your staff. They will also spin their wheels and struggle to know where to put their focus.

You can be the smartest, most strategic, highly emotionally intelligent leader, but if you can’t get the right things accomplished and you can’t focus your team to get results, you will never be successful. When you aren’t purposeful with your time, projects and tasks will fill up your day and keep you from your most important work as a leader: caretaking the culture or your team and organization. Being a caretaker of culture involves coaching, providing direction and feedback, building relationships and developing your employees.

2. Lack of Team Engagement

Because most leaders feel overloaded and overwhelmed, they aren’t purposeful in their leadership. They don’t prioritize coaching and developing employees, which often leads to a lack of team engagement. Your best performers expect to be developed and want to know a path for their future. Leaders who don’t take the time to build relationships, give meaningful feedback and coach employees toward their potential will have high turnover and low engagement in their departments.

Here are some common issues that contribute to lack of team engagement:

  • Not getting to know your employees as individuals
  • Not providing meaningful feedback
  • Not meeting with employees regularly
  • Neglecting to coach and develop your employees
  • Focusing only on results and not on building relationships

3. Lack of Delegation

Many leaders struggle to operate at a strategic level. We often think the value we bring to the organization is our technical expertise, but that mindset holds us back. To be an exceptional leader, we need to focus on leading and influencing our team towards results—through coaching, developing and giving meaningful feedback. Effective leaders are facilitators, not fixers. That is, managers should focus on facilitating peak performance from the team by asking questions rather than getting in the weeds and fixing technical issues.

Here are some common issues and mindsets that contribute to a lack of delegation:

  • The need to be in control
  • Not trusting your team
  • Thinking there is only one right way to do things (your way!)
  • Feeling that you have to do it all
  • Enjoying, or getting satisfaction, from technical work
  • Thinking your value to the credit union is your technical expertise rather than your leadership competencies

The ability to delegate is one of the most important habits of successful leadership. In fact, lack of delegation is often the primary reason leaders aren’t successful. There are many reasons leaders don’t delegate, but one major reason is they get satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment by staying in the technical work.

When you delegate, you multiply your productivity and you develop others on your team.

Leading at a strategic level is necessary for effective leadership. Yet for many people, the strategic elements of leadership—like coaching and developing employees, creating strategic plans and solutions, and engaging and leading a team—feel less tangible. Staying in technical work feels more rewarding because we get the immediate satisfaction of checking things off a list.

To make the successful transition to leadership, managers have to let go of being the technical expert and shift into a facilitator role which will enable their team to grow and perform at their best.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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