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Self-Handicapping Leadership: How to Recognize and Correct It

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
  • Micromanaging
  • 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. 

OTHER RESOURCES

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.

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

Dr. Stanley J. Ward is the Dean of Capstone Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, where he continues to develop CLU's unique action research model for mindfulness, dialogue, and collaboration that lead to values-based change. As dean, he also supervises graduate student action research projects in ethical leadership, social impact, and interfaith action.

Outside of academia, he is a certified 360 feedback facilitator through the Center for Creative Leadership and a certified change management practitioner through Prosci. In 2014, he founded Influence Coaching, LLC (www.coachingforinfluence.com) to provide individual and small group coaching resources that help leaders maximize their strengths, correct their liabilities, and make peace with their weaknesses, all while developing others in their organizations.
 
Dr. Ward holds a PhD in Leadership Studies, thinks fountain pens are cool, and jams on the ukulele with his family.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

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Stan Ward

Stan Ward

Dr. Stanley J. Ward is the Dean of Capstone Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, where he continues to develop CLU's unique action research model for mindfulness, dialogue, and collaboration that lead to values-based change. As dean, he also supervises graduate student action research projects in ethical leadership, social impact, and interfaith action.

Outside of academia, he is a certified 360 feedback facilitator through the Center for Creative Leadership and a certified change management practitioner through Prosci. In 2014, he founded Influence Coaching, LLC (www.coachingforinfluence.com) to provide individual and small group coaching resources that help leaders maximize their strengths, correct their liabilities, and make peace with their weaknesses, all while developing others in their organizations.
 
Dr. Ward holds a PhD in Leadership Studies, thinks fountain pens are cool, and jams on the ukulele with his family.

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