Do you self-handicap as a leader?
WHAT IT IS
In their book, Self-Handicapping Leadership, Phillip Decker and Jordan Mitchell have identified nine behaviors that “[hold] back employees, managers, and companies” and they provide guidance on how to overcome them.
These nine behaviors include:
- Avoiding Accountability
- Lacking Self-Awareness
- Having Tunnel Vision
- Lacking Engagement
- Poor Analysis and Decision Making
- Poor Communication
- Poor Talent Development
- Not Driving for Results
HOW IT AFFECTS YOU
Rooted in insecurity, it leads to blaming behaviors that keep leaders from learning and growing. Confidence in the leader declines, especially as stress on the organization increases. The organization loses motivation and individuals refuse to take ownership.
Decker and Mitchell describe a downward path caused by self-handicapping behaviors. That path looks like this:
uncertainty . . .
excuses . . .
reduced effort or learning . . .
self-defeating behaviors . . .
obstacles to effectiveness . . .
. . . all of which contributes to leaders finding themselves trapped in “the box of blame.” This decline reminds me of the tragic path we see so often in literature. Heroes ignore warnings, cut themselves off from community, and eventually end their story in what literary theorist Louise Cowan calls “the tragic abyss” (which for some reason reminds me of “the pit of despair” in The Princess Bride).
HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT
I suggest a simple test. Ask yourself: “How am I growing professionally right now?”
If you can’t give a clear answer, then ask yourself, “What is in the way of me growing professionally right now?” and look for one of the nine items listed above.
HOW TO CORRECT IT
My first suggestion for addressing any leadership development issue: get feedback!
In this case, have honest conversations with co-workers who know you well. Do they see any of these behaviors in you? If so, when do those behaviors occur? What seems to trigger it? What are more constructive ways that you could respond?
In their book, the authors include a section on “baby steps” readers can apply as a way of correcting self-handicapping behaviors. In all fairness to the authors, I won’t give away their suggestions for corrections.
Instead, I will make a general observation: trying small changes as a series of small experiments is a powerful way to push back against stagnation.
There is a lot of good work on the power of small changes, and I’ve found the concept of using small experiments for personal growth to be helpful for my own growth. Here are some places to start.
- If you enjoy TED talks, then see Forget Big Change – Start with Small Habits
- For a self-help book, try Small Move – Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently
- If you want something that focuses on organizational behavior, then see the chapter on “Leveraging Small Wins” in Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble.