After hearing Jennifer Garvey Berger speak at a conference, I couldn’t wait to read her latest book, “Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps.” It’s a quick and easy read that’s packed full of insights and solutions for leaders at all levels – and a great addition to the Business Book Club.

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Garvey Berger believes most leadership fails are due to what she calls “mindtraps” – ways our minds trick us into behaving in ways that don’t serve us. And one of the biggest reasons these mindtraps fail us is due to the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the world.

But there’s hope! In fable format (which I normally loathe, but hers is lighter and funnier than most), Garvey Berger describes not only the traps, but how to escape each of them. I love the mindtraps model – her concepts ring true with what I’ve found over years of leadership coaching, and they’re rooted in the belief that all leaders can improve.

Garvey Berger’s five big leadership mindtraps are:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Rightness
  3. Agreement
  4. Control
  5. Ego


The simplicity mindtrap is rooted in our desire to find simple stories and solutions to problems. Simplicity makes things easier to explain and understand. And while there’s nothing innately wrong with simplicity, our drive for simplicity sometimes causes us to reject the complex (more accurate) solution.

To unlock this trap, look for different perspectives. Garvey Berger encourages leaders to “carry three different stories,” which opens us up to noticing evidence that supports other possibilities.


A fascinating piece of research about rightness is that it’s an emotional response, not a logical one. And we have that positive, glowy confidence we get from being right…even when we’re wrong. The feeling comes from believing we’re right. The emotional response makes it really hard to overcome the drive to be right. It’s heady stuff!

The way to get past it is curiosity, and being open to the idea that we may not be right, even when it feels like we are. Garvey Berger advises us to “listen to learn” rather than “listening to fix or to win.”


I was excited to see agreement as one of the leadership mindtraps. Not because we should be disagreeable, but because agreement – as a goal – can stifle different voices in the room, and doing so, limit innovation.

The answer? Spirited discussion. Not knock-down, drag-out fights, but encouraging diverse opinions and respectful disagreements in service of expanding solutions rather than contracting them.


Ah, control! This is an issue that comes up a lot with my coaching clients. It’s a tough one! Leaders who feel responsible and accountable can also feel that they must control not only the inputs but outcomes of everything in their organizations. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s counterproductive.

Great leaders shouldn’t have all the answers, and it can be a gift to allow others to contribute to both the strategy and results of the team. Ask yourself how you can enable your team rather than control it.


Ego becomes a leadership mindtrap when we want to seem or appear a certain way to others. It’s a protection thing, and we’re often not aware we’re doing it. And oftentimes, what we’re protecting is our status quo.

To unlock this trap, focus on your growth and who you are becoming, rather than defending who you are (or think you are) right now. Get curious about yourself as a leader.

Leadership mindtraps can catch even the best leaders sometimes. Which one do you think is the most dangerous? Tell us in the comments below!