How Leaders Shoot Themselves in the Foot
Everyone engages in self-defeating behaviors. “Part of my job is helping people get out of their own way,” Joel Garfinkle author of Getting Ahead.
Which of these self-defeating behaviors hold you back?
- Hiding from what you really think or feel.
- Over thinking and under acting.
- Focusing on “why” at the expense of “what” and “how.”
- Excuse making.
Self-defeating behaviors first live in our heads. We are what we think. Shirzad Chamine identifies 10 internal enemies – internal Saboteurs – in his new book, Positive Intelligence.
- Judge. Everyone suffers from an internal judge who constantly finds fault with self, others, and circumstances. Shirzad calls the judge the master Saboteur.
- Stickler. The need for perfection, order, and organization taken too far.
- Pleaser. Being compelled to gain acceptance and affection by helping, pleasing, or flattering others constantly.
- Hyper-Achiever. Depending on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation.
- Victim. Feeling emotional and temperamental as a way of gaining attention and affection.
- Hyper-Rational. Intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships.
- Hyper-Vigilant. Intense and continuous anxiety about all the dangers surrounding you and what could go wrong.
- Restless. Constantly on the search for greater excitement in the next activity or through perpetual business.
- Controller. An anxiety based need to take charge, control situations, and bend peoples actions to one’s own will.
- Avoider. Focusing on the positive and the pleasant in an extreme way.
Shirzad rightly points out the inner judge is the ring leader of self-defeating attitudes and behaviors. Frankly, at one time or another, all ten have been guests in my head. How about you?
How do leaders shoot themselves in the foot?
How do you deal with inner saboteurs?
Behaviors 8, restless and 4, hyper-active are my daily companions. They are dangerous because they are external performance indicators. Yes, you may get accolades for always being willing to take on the new challenge or meeting the new goal. However, these behaviors also allow me to avoid self-reflection. My growth as a leader and a person require that self-reflection. I have to remind myself to take the time to improve myself and not just my skills.
Another awesome comment! Thanks.
You remind me of the time I finally got to the point of saying “no” to my boss. I was always a “yes I can” person and still want to be that type. However, “yes I can” easily becomes over-committed and stressed out!
It wasn’t easy making the transition because ppl around me expected the “yes I can” Dan to show up every day. “No” can be hard to swallow.
Thanks for sharing your journey,
Restlessness and hyperactivity are almost expected qualities in creative business leaders—or at least their less flamboyant twins are. It’s often difficult to determine when being “high energy” crosses over into hyperactivity and when being “focused and driven” morphs into restlessness.
Self-reflection is obviously important, but being aware of how others perceive us is as well. Leaders who exhibit true hyperactivity and restlessness wear down the people around them—and, eventually, it shows.
Our employees, colleagues, and superiors are great mirrors. All of us should take a look at them, lest we be too quick to condemn ourselves for our faults (i.e. be the “Judge” in Shirzad’s list).
For myself, I tend to over think situations. I almost feel like life is a multiple choice test that has trick questions as my options. It has taken me a while to learn that, like a test, my gut instinct is usually the one that takes me the distance.
I also think my biggest issue is I focus on the “why”. It isn’t that I have a problem with the “what” and “how” rather in order for me to do the job to the best of my ability, the “why” is a major player. I have noticed that the “why” can make me look argumentative, when this is really not the case. The answer to the “why” can also involve other and better ways to the “what” and “how.
Like you Todd, the why sometimes gets me in trouble. I agree that it comes off as argumentative when that is surely not what I am trying to convey. I think the why comes from my socratic learning style. I like to test the opposition to conclude and rationalize my thoughts.
Thanks for joining in today!
You should see the raised eyebrows when I say we ask “why” too much while neglecting “what” and “how.”
I think a why question works when it lands on a “what’s next” and then “how do we proceed.”
I used to think all there was … was a why…
I wonder if the problem of whys seeming argumentative can be solved by asking more what and how type questions??? hmmm, something to ponder.
I think that the “Why” suggest rebellion in its makeup. Although by itself, “Why” is the drive that makes us want to achieve and grow, it is also the source of, well, simply, why?
Example: I have a new manager, he/she wants to re-invent the wheel and change the process of which we do things. “Why” is important to know why there is changes in process when it appears that change is not necessary (not to Hem and Haw at it). Sure, I think that the changes will take us (the department) towards the overall goal of being successful, but with the “why” on the table, it looks like we are questioning authority (Do as I say, not as I do…). Rather, I think the “Why” in this case, should showcase the end goal of the leader; if this “Why” cannot be backed up and supported, then what qualities are we striving for with the change?
The “Why” is the source of our basic needs (Why do we work? To support our family. Why do we give good customer service? To retain and grow our business? Etc.). The “What” and the “How” can only be determined after the “Why”.
I couldn’t agree more. Maybe it’s cultural, but we often confuse “Why…?” with “How…?” and “What…?” For example, it takes more focused thinking to ask, “What are we going to do with our displaced engineering resources?” than, “Why are we changing our R&D priorities?” The answer to the first question will often include the answer to the second.
There’s nothing wrong with asking questions—or the Socratic method, as Todd mentions—it’s just a matter of how we do it (and for what reason). Another quick example:
“Why are we moving into such a crowded market?” versus, “How will we differentiate ourselves from the existing competition?” Implicit in the “why” question is a reluctance to act. The “how” question focuses on solutions.
I’ve often seen why used successfully (the 5 why technique promoted by LEAN) but agree with Joel. How and what questions are, by their very nature, more positive forward looking. Why questions have their place when used well, to clarify intent – ensure the person has thought through the problem – to get to a deeper root cause when problem solving.
When we are after progress, such as brainstorming strategy, how and what could be better choices to focus on positive movement.
Love your transparency and insights. Thank you.
Over thinking for me is considering ALL the options… fear of missing something. I remember Josh Linkner saying 70% certainty is enough to move forward…. I love that approach. Maybe some need 80% certainty but the beauty of it is I’m not waiting for 100%.
I hadn’t thought how “why” can make us look argumentative but when you say it, it makes perfect sense! Thanks for the insight.
@Dan great post
@Todd I remember reading somewhere that there was a study that linked the word ‘Why’ with the flight or fight part of the brain. Apparently when someone is under stress and is asked ‘why’, it lights up this part of the brain, however if you use other open questions or TED questions first it moves the brain activity away from this part of the brain then you can ask ‘why’.
The researchers used an MRI scanner, however they could have saved some money and observed any parent being asked by their toddler in a shop twenty times ‘why cant I have…’ would see it can have an undesired effect! 😉
I’m seeing all to often people in the organizations I work with that can easily answer the question “WHY are you doing this?”, but fail to answer the question “OK, I understand why, but WHAT FOR?”. In fact, most even fail to ask the second question. The result is they’re doing a lot of unnecessary things that eat up their time and energy. I think a good leader should strive to make his organization constantly thinking in the “what for?” mode. How the action I’m about to take will contribute to the end goal? Would it change anything if I didn’t do it? etc.
A truly insightful post. I agree that one time or another, some of the saboteurs are present in everyone’s mind. It is natural to have these. We overcome them through our experiences, exposure and education when we move forward in different stages of our lives. I believe those who take decisions and see life positively experience and learn to defeat these internal demons. Those who are powerful only by words are generally suffering from such saboteurs. I think there are two category of people; powerful by works and powerful by words. And first category of people generally has fewer saboteurs. Two qualities i.e. judge and controls are perhaps the most dominant ones. People more tend to judge and try to control situations in their favours. Two qualities of insider saboteurs that I think are also prevalent. They are guarantee and planning. People with self defeating attitude take time guaranteed in their favour. They have present blind attitude. They are also more likely to plan for their future. When you ask them, they will tell you big and many plans. But the fact is that, they never execute it.
I see a mix of experience and insight in your comment. Thank you..
I love your 3E’s … experience, exposure, and education.
Like you, I think everyone experiences sabotuers to one degree or another. That’s why it’s important to point out those internal demons, name them and move through their negative impact.
In the future I’ll be featuring ideas form “Getting Ahead” and “Positive Intelligence” as tools to minimize the impact of self-defeating behaviors and attitudes.
Thank you for your contributions,
Your mention of overcoming saboteurs with experience, exposure and education definitely rings true. I would also add that we don’t need to rely on just ourselves. Seeking mentors and advocates among your superiors can help temper many of these saboteurs, as can maintaining an awareness of how others perceive you.
Soliciting feedback and guidance—while arguably a component of “education”—are an important and distinct part of combating inner demons and saboteurs.
Great post Dan, I think we all have issues that are self-defeating at some point.. Great reminder to keep these things in mind when making decisions or facing obstacles in life so we don’t allow them be the bullet that shoots us in the foot…
I think a lot of times we allow these things to cause problems because we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do…
“Know the enemy and know yourself, and your victory will never be endangered; know the weather and know the ground, and your victory will then be complete.” Sun Tzu 500 B.C
Thanks for the good word.
It’s surprising how self-awareness keeps coming back to the center of conversations about successful leadership.
Thank you for sharing your insights.
It’s amazing how advice from someone 2,500 years ago is still relevant. In my coaching, I’ve found that people who engage in regular self-reflection are some of my most successful clients. (Yes, Dan, I would agree with you—self-awareness is a huge part of successful leadership.)
Many of the most successful executives I know are quite intentional about self-reflection and maintaining self-awareness. They go on reflection retreats, create designated time every day for reflection, or maintain journals chronicling important observations about their thinking, responses, and choices.
Oh no! They are all in my head right now!
Great post. Sadly, I have experienced every one of these at one time or another. I have learned that in order to not let situations get the best of me I have to use what I call “The Three C’s” of problem solving and task accomplishment.
The Three C’s of problem solving are to remain calm, cool, and collected so that you don’t show signs of weakness and allow a situation to control you by getting bent out of shape about it.
The Three C’s of task accomplishment is to approach each task with courage, commitment, and confidence so that no task goes undone.
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I am recovering from being # 1 on the first list and # 2 on the second list.
#10 is in my head right now. I’m avoiding my own work by reading others. 🙂 Great insight!
I am so many of those things I don’t even want to think about it…but probably #7 gives me the most stress! great post, very interesting!
Reblogged this on For your mind & future only and commented:
“Everyone engages in self-defeating behaviors. “Part of my job is helping people get out of their own way,” Joel Garfinkle author of Getting Ahead.
Which of these self-defeating behaviors hold you back?”
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Thanks for doing the hard part and simplifying these behaviors – hope you don’t mind I reposted it to our blog – http://www.makeitsimplesister.com