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Self-Sabotage – 5 Strong Leadership Qualities That Can Go Awry


Have you noticed that most leadership books, including my own, “People Leadership 30 Strategies to Ensure Your Team’s Success”, are chock full of the positive behaviors required to be an effective leader?  However, very few share the impact of poor execution of those same traits.  This realization came to me when I read an article in the May 2016 edition of the Costco Connection titled “Self-Sabotage: Five Good Behaviors That Can Derail Any Company” by Robert Gelford and Cary Greene.   The article highlighted behaviors that can actually be detrimental to your goals things like, not allowing shortcuts to be made, getting consensus and re-evaluating previously made decisions.

As I read through the examples of the five behaviors, it made me re-examine the thirty strategies outlined in my own book, contemplating the ways leaders can sabotage not only their team’s success, but also their own.  Being a leader in life and in business can feel daunting and overwhelming some days.  Let’s face it, not only are your responsible for your own attitude, action and performance, you are also responsible for shaping and impacting the outcomes of the people with whom you interact. You may have heard the phrase, the “devil is in the details”, well with leadership the “devil is in the delivery.”  If you are not mindful and intentional, even the strongest leadership qualities can go awry.

In order to demonstrate how easily and covertly this can happen, I chose my top five leadership strategies from “People Leadership” and outlined how the impact of poor implementation can be a huge setback.

1 – Collaborate

The concept of collaboration is coming close to being like a song that is overplayed on the radio.  As a leader, you are reminded incessantly of the need to collaborate.  When this happens, human nature kicks in and out of frustration from hearing that “song” played over and over, you make a promise to yourself or your boss to collaborate with your team.   You organize a meeting, share the objective and need to collaborate and ask for ideas.  After all, that is what you have been told collaboration is all about right?  But ….do you really want to hear from your team or are you simply going through the motions to prove you can work with others?  All too often, I witness leaders that collaborate in theory; however, they already have a final plan in mind that they want to implement.  While they are technically allowing the individuals on the team to offer suggestions, the reality is that they are not actually listening.  While the team is offering suggestions, the leader is thinking about all the reasons that the team’s ideas won’t work and why their own ideas will.  Pretending like you are collaborating when you have no intention of using the team’s is not only a waste of time it is devastating and demoralizing to the organization.

2- Empower People

Of all of the leadership practices, empowerment is the most misinterpreted and misused.  In fact, in my experience, it is at the top of the list of corporate initiatives that fail.  The reason being is that empowering people somehow gets implemented as a “you asked for it, you got it” strategy.  Many leaders simply say to their team, “You are empowered now, so do the best you can and make the best decisions possible for the company” and walk away with an expectation that the individuals will deliver.   You offer no insight into your expectations.  You feel the individuals should know what you expect and at times you think they should be able to read your mind.  Wrong.  Even the best performers who have worked with you for years, can’t always predict your desires.  In addition, handing over the reins with no framework within which the team cam operate is a recipe for disruption.  Just like a builder needs the architect’s plan to build a house, your team needs to know the parameters within which they can base their decisions and actions.  Finally, leaders assume incorrectly that everyone wants to be empowered.  Don’t get me wrong, people do want to make an impact through their work; however, not everyone wants to be put in charge completely.  Empowering people with no guidance or support is like giving a teenage the keys to the car with no driving lessons.   Stress, dysfunction and disruption are guaranteed.

3- Be innovative

Steve Jobs is considered to be one of the top leaders of all times.  His vision and innovation through the years has provided the world with entertainment avenues we never dreamed of and productivity tools we only thought were possible in “The Jetsons.” Jobs was an innovation genius!  Yet, as I watched the movie “Steve Jobs”, it was crystal clear very few individuals could work well with him.  Many employees, partners and bosses, although awed by his creative mind, despised working for him.   He was more like the mad scientist who is obsessed with creating new thing and has no grasp of the importance of other people’s support.  Most visionaries and innovators have no patience with or interest in the details required to make their creations a reality.  They simply want their inventions to be implemented and will bulldoze through anyone who stands in their way.  Innovators of this type will find themselves very lonely personally and professionally in the long run. (love this paragraph—that movie is on my watch list)

4 – Exude Confidence

Leaders require confidence and an authentic belief in their abilities.  This requires self –awareness, confidence and humility.  Many people misinterpret arrogance as overconfidence.  What I learned by watching the behaviors of those labelled as arrogant is that they are in fact just the opposite.  They are insecure.  Arrogance comes about because the leader is trying to overcompensate for their fears around risk-taking or being seen as a fraud.  If you think people can’t see right through you, think again.  I wish I had a penny for every time I hear an individual talking about the arrogant S.O.B. that leads their team or company because my bank account would have a lot more money in it!  The reason over confident individuals rub us the wrong way is because we can immediately sense that they are trying to hide something and we dismiss them as frauds.  This leads to decreased trust of you as a leader and creates poor outcomes for you and your organization.

5- Communicate

You may have read before that I believe communication is the number one contributor to most problems in our personal and professional life.  Many leaders work very hard to improve their communication skills and in doing so they make one fatal mistake.  They over-communicate.   There is no forethought nor intention in the information that is conveyed.  Many times leaders simply pass on information with little thought into the audience that they are communicating to.  In addition, there is a tendency to distribute information to everyone regardless of whether it is applicable or impacts them.    Emails are the absolute worst offender of over communication.  Have you ever been part of an email flurry in which the leader copies everyone on the message?!?  If so, your inbox probably filled up quickly!  This type of poor communication causes confusion and frustration (probably anger too) and must be avoided at all costs!

Effective leaders aren’t afraid to self-correct so this may a good time to reflect on the behaviors and actions you are taking to ensure they are not being overused or misconstrued.  If you find you have over-rotated in specific area, admit your error and improve it the next time.  Don’t beat yourself up because it doesn’t mean you are a failure as long as you improve upon it. Be an authentic leader, not a saboteur of yourself and others!

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