What's Holding You Back?

What's Holding You Back?
This article is written by Timothy J. Murphy, Order of the Golden Eagle, Past Chief Executive Officer, Tau Kappa Epsilon International Fraternity. "What's Holding You Back" is Part 6 of an 8 part series on leadership.
Part 1: Leading vs. Managing – There IS a Difference!
Part 2: The Chapter Leader’s Toolbox of Excellence
Part 3: Identifying and Utilizing Your Leadership Style
Part 4: Your Leadership Structure
Part 5: Transformational Leadership

If you have an idea for an article or would like to share your knowledge with TKE Nation, please reach out to us at TKEOGC@TKE.org. We would love to learn more!

Tim Murphy

In the first 5 installments in this TKE Series on Leadership, we examined several key subjects; leadership styles, your leadership structure, leading vs. managing, the chapter leader's 'toolbox', and transformational leadership. In these first five chapters, your leadership journey has certainly been enhanced, and hopefully, this has motivated you to want to learn more.

Every leader knows that there's always more to learn; education never ends! As President John F. Kennedy so eloquently said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." We're always seeking new ways to serve and lead, whether it's in the fraternity, the university, or elsewhere. Learning everything we can about leadership helps create even greater successes, and will enhance the membership experience for those you lead.

And yes, even great leaders sometimes run into pitfalls. The things that can hold us back from reaching our next level of potential include internal factors like fears and attitudes; or external factors like increased class/workload, family commitments, or limited time and other resources. The following list represents very common conditions that just might keep us from reaching our goals and celebrating successful leadership ventures.

Fear of Failure

I suggest leaving this irrational fear at the doorstep. Sure, every leader occasionally wonders if the new program, system, or event will succeed. That's natural. This, however, becomes a detriment when the fear is overcoming your enthusiasm, which will paralyze you and your team. The solution? Remind yourself, as well as your team, that you are entering uncharted territory, and there's no guarantee that this is going to work. Turn that unknown into a rallying point and allow the bravery and "adrenaline rush" of being risk takers guide your team. Building something completely new and different will certainly energize you and those around you. And yes, it's addictive.

Micromanagement of your team

Good leaders know they shouldn't do this; great leaders learned the painful lesson and will never do it again. Micromanagement of anyone - especially your team members - will make your task or goal a sure non-starter. By definition, micromanagement is managing (not leading) with excessive control or attention to details and being involved with every single aspect of every team member's tasks. Another term for this personality type is "control freak." The result? Your team members will leave and will likely not wish to join you for future endeavors. I advocate performing with exactly the opposite strategy; simply paint the picture of what success looks like, and let your team get there without telling them how. You'll all be successful, and you'll be amazed at the creativity!



There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and great leaders never cross it. Of course being confident is a positive attribute. However, when it's 'over the top', that confident air enters the realm of arrogance, and that puts an otherwise good leader in an untenable position, and he is at risk of his team abandoning him. Most people view arrogance as an extension of immaturity and lack of leadership experience. People who have taken risks, however, and thus have experienced meaningful failures, are not arrogant - they know they're not batting a thousand, but they have an enviable track record of success. The arrogant leader probably hasn't been "at bat" enough.


For leaders to be successful in their endeavors, an acute sense of organization is a must. Now, I'm not talking about having a clean house or an orderly desk, but rather an intentional and detailed sense of processes. Great leaders are in demand, so they probably have two or three concurrent leadership roles in their lives at any given point in time. As such, keeping track of critical tasks and objectives is absolutely necessary. Disorganization, then, is a leadership-killer every time.

Some people have the intellectual capacity to keep track of all the demands of the day quite keenly. I am not one of those people! I need a little help in staying organized, so I turn to technology solutions for a little assistance. For example, my Outlook calendar program is shared with all my team members (and theirs with me), so we can keep track of each other's obligations throughout the day and week. We use project management software that team members actually enjoy, like Asana, Smartsheet, or Trello; and there are several on the market now. These integrate team member efforts, making it clear where you are on the project, and what's ahead. For busy leaders, these can be life-savers.

Not learning from failure

We know that it's healthy to learn from our past failures in order to avoid those conditions that led to failure and to adopt new, successful ones. All too often, when an otherwise talented leader experiences a failure, he may retreat and avoid future leadership opportunities. This situation can rob your chapter of essential leadership prowess! Don't let these failures fill you with the irrational fear of failure, already discussed above.

How do we learn from failures? My favorite method is known as the "post-mortem". After every event, program, or service our teams create, they hold the "post-mortem" session, where every team member analyzes what went right, what went wrong, what was excellent, and what was mediocre. We then tighten it up and determine if it is worth attempting again, or whether it's an idea for the scrap pile. This is the process where alternatives and greater ideas are born to tackle the problem, and thus failures are remanufactured into successes.

Not seeking (or refusing) assistance

This success retardant is more common than most leaders think. And if they're really honest with themselves, they'll realize they do it or have done it. I admit it too; there have been times when I have said, "It will take me longer to explain it to you than to do it myself." But as I grew as a leader and a professional, I learned what an impairment this can be.

When someone offers to assist in a task or project, it is often the wise move to accept that person as a volunteer. Every minute in a day someone can give you back is a great gift, and you're helping develop future leaders by mentoring those who wish to assist. While it might be a little more effort up front in teaching your assistants, the payoff is time and efficiency on the back end. It's worth it.

As we grow and mature as leaders, we get more comfortable with our own styles and motivations, but we must also recognize that we have stressors - those things that just might make the difference between accomplishment and disappointment. Once we recognize them, we can negate their ill effects and enjoy our successes. These things that held us back before no longer have power over us. So, the next time someone asks you, "What's holding you back?" - the answer is NOTHING!

For more information, please contact:

Garrett Thomas
Director of Communications
317-872-6533 ext. 252

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