The Subtleties of Obstruction

You don’t intend to sabotage your team, but good intentions aren’t the only factor in successful leadership.

It’s self-defeating to punch yourself in the face and expect high-performance at the same time.

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How sincere leaders obstruct progress:

#1. Using curiosity to nitpick:

Obstructionists ask questions to block progress. One employee said, “When I don’t want to do something, I start asking lots of questions.”

I’m a huge fan of curiosity, but obstructionists nitpick definitions and details to wear you down and get their way.

Control freaks drag you into the weeds with questions when they aren’t getting their way.

  • Agree on shared goals before nitpicking the path forward.
  • When unconvinced, state your concerns before asking questions. Anything less is disingenuous and manipulative.

#2. Hard work toward ambiguous goals:

It’s surprising how many leaders improvise when asked, “How do you know you’re winning?” Or they limit their goals to numbers and exclude culture and relationships.

You’re a gerbil on an exercise wheel until you define wins.

  • Ask your team if they’re winning.
  • Ask your team to define this week’s wins. Better yet, what are today’s wins?

Winning is a matter of definition.

Every day needs a win. You can survive without wins, but you can’t thrive.

#3. Too many suggestions:

Dreamers have ten suggestions before Doers finish considering one.

It’s frustrating and overwhelming to bombard people with ideas. Chill out. Give people time to reflect. Just stop talking.

#4. Seeking input after you’ve already begun:

Save time and frustration by seeking input before you begin.

  • Declare goals.
  • How might we begin?
  • What issues need to be explored?

#5. Neglecting relationships:

Relationships – not results – are the strength of organizations.

Choose results AND relationships, not results OR relationships.

  • Build relationships and community in meetings.
  • Share food.
  • Schedule regular 1:1’s.

How do leaders subtly obstruct progress?

What might you do today to enhance progress?

Bonus material:

Why Bad Bosses Sabotage Their Teams (Kellogg School of Management)

Four ways managers subconsciously sabotage their own teams (Fast Company)

Five Ways Sneaky Managers Sabotage Top Performers (Forbes)