Four Leadership Problems that Inhibit Growth: Lesson #2

Last week I talked about the first problem:  You don’t think you have a problem.

As Dr. Phil would say, “you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.” This lesson is the second leadership problem that stunts your growth: Defensiveness.

Let’s look at this from two perspectives: The first perspective is when you have to bring someone else out of denial, i.e. give unwanted feedback, disciplining an employee, or sharing a bad customer service example with a favored vendor. The second perspective is when someone else gives YOU unwanted information.

Perspective #1: The Difficult Conversation

When you are the one giving the unwanted feedback to bring about awareness, there are many dynamics at play including the power structure, your relationship with the other person, as well as your own fears which makes for a difficult conversation, and thus creates the structure of avoidance, another protective tactic.

How to Do It:

As a consultant, I continue to learn how to light a candle first before throwing on the flood light. You must understand the natural urge for the other person to protect themselves may come out as defensiveness. The first step (preventative measure) is to set the expectation from the beginning of any project that there will be feedback and tweaks. If you haven’t done that, you must go to plan B, (corrective measure) which is to set a meeting, and set the framework so that the other person is not caught so off guard that he goes into defensive or protective mode. When you build trust with the individual, the feedback gets easier and the other person is more apt to grow rather than resist.

Perspective #2: Hearing What You Don’t Want to Hear

Now let’s look at this problem from the second perspective: Someone has to give you unwanted feedback to bring you to new levels of awareness. The big problem here is that most likely if you are in a power position you aren’t going to hear as much as you would if you were at a lower level. Again, the power structure in place prevents others from telling you what you need to know to improve. This power structure prevents authentic dialogue and prevents true understanding and growth on a personal level.

Even if the news you hear is not personal, and is more about your business, or the message comes from a customer, it never feels good to hear unwanted information. The result: It’s easy to blame the messenger.

Let’s face it– learning about your weaknesses, whether it be in your customer service, your systems, or your leadership style never feels good. I’ve often said when you are coming out of denial it’s like coming off of an anesthetic after surgery: you have to do it slow and you have to have some support. Learning how to receive unwanted news can give you the support you need.

How to Receive It:

As a preventative measure, invite feedback. As a leader, you get to decide how you want to receive it, whether it’s through a survey, a casual conversation, or a formal feedback system. As a contingent measure, always take a breath when you are surprised to hear something you don’t like, whether the information comes from a customer, a colleague or an employee.

Take a pause before responding or set another appointment to give your response when you’ve had time to evaluate free from the threat of an emotional hijack.

As an enlightened leader you must learn how to create a space between stimulus and response. As a corrective measure, apologize if you have been defensive, and try to find the kernel of truth to help yourself improve, otherwise your anger and defensiveness will keep you in the dark.

Next week I’ll talk about the third leadership problem that stunts growth.

marlene2Marlene Chism is a consultant, national speaker and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011). Marlene’s passion is developing wise leaders and helping people to discover, develop and deliver their gifts to the world.

Marlene’s message is spreading across the country at association meetings, corporate retreats, universities and other venues. If interested in exploring speaking or training opportunities please call 1.888.434.9085