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How can your leaders conquer their self-sabotage habits?

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Coaching your leadership team to fight their inner sabateur will ultimately benefit the rest of the organisation. Here are five ways to get you started. 

17th Nov 2021
Desiree -CrestCoaching Crest Coaching & HR
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A key responsibility of the L&D function is leadership development. However, what might actually be holding your leaders back is their own self-sabotage. If they continually reinforce unhelpful behaviours these become self-fulfilling patterns, severely hampering their own lives and careers.

Self-sabotage scenarios

Below are five ways many leaders frequently self-sabotage and some suggestions for overcoming these internal challenges. Readers who are leaders themselves may also recognise their own limitations of sabotage.

1. Look for silver linings

Does your leadership team play it safe because they worry about external factors? This fear may have understandably accelerated as a result of the pandemic and the effects of worldwide changes on industry. Protecting oneself from uncertainty is natural – but it becomes a limiting belief if procrastination prevents achievement of more meaningful goals. With increasing need for agility in hybrid and global workplaces, adaptation is an essential.

Your leaders need to move beyond fear of uncertainty by gathering formal/ informal support networks of experts to help create realistic strategies; examine past learnings without judgement (mistakes don’t mean they are a bad person) and formulate plans taking multiple factors and market trends into account. Alternate scenarios should be built and regularly reviewed; whilst you can help them reframe their thoughts by being grateful for life’s lessons.

Often our leaders jump in headfirst and then when things go wrong, they wonder why it always turns into disaster

2. Expect setbacks

Do your leaders take risks and embark on business ventures, but time after time something goes badly amiss, and then the voice in their head says: ‘I told you so’? Do they convince themselves that chartering new territory is fraught with threats and that when they have upscaled or forged into a new market sector/ client segment they have run into trouble? The sleepless nights, constant worry and past setbacks keep them in a negative spiral. 

Life is full of ups and downs, so some failures should be expected. Often our leaders jump in headfirst and then when things go wrong, they wonder why it always turns into disaster. Instead, encourage them to take calculated risks by harnessing their values and dreams (and those of their team members) to keep their vision inspirational. By balancing rational and emotional sides of the brain, you can help sustain your leaders’ motivation - as well as improve their recognition of reasonable warning signals.

3. Let go of perfectionism

Does your leadership team scale up their business, taking on new team members only to find that they now have staffing headaches and a heavier workload? Do they rise through the ranks but are increasingly dissatisfied about themselves? Now they not only fear that they will have to worry about work schedules and productivity, but that they will have to get on with others that they may not like!

They may also feel pressure to create near-miracles to keep their business dynamic. This self-expectation results in tension with others due to their ‘superior’ attitude. They often don’t tune in to verbal and non-verbal cues others give them to indicate that they aren’t feeling respected.

Encouraging them to agree realistic targets, timescales and standards with their teams upfront and rewarding good performance will pay off

These leaders may feel loss of control if they manage remotely, so they end up either over-managing or over-delegating; thereby creating further problems. This perfection-imperfection cycle can be stressful and upset others as they feel under-valued. 

What to do about it? Control aspects that are vital, replace the need for perfection with the need for better relationships using listening and empathy. That way the limbic brain is employed to produce positive feelings from interactions rather than anxiety caused by time-consuming checking. Also, encouraging them to agree realistic targets, timescales and standards with their teams upfront and rewarding good performance will pay off. Then they can let the team get on with it!

4. Help them to befriend their imposter

Our thoughts can help us but often they are like an over-protective parent. From a neuroscience perspective, it’s better for your leaders to acknowledge negative thinking but realise that they can move beyond this to create a better inner and outer reality. Let’s take a look at thoughts that are essentially imposters, hijacking a peaceful mind-set.

Is the imposter someone who criticised the leader in the past? Or is it the stern character they’ve created in a silent movie saying they are not measuring up to the achievements of family or friends? What does their imposter look like and sound like? They should visualise it, be aware of the limiting beliefs and lack of compassion it’s entrenching but also appreciate that its primary role is to help them. 

Once they’ve accepted this voice as an opinion or a warning rather than fact, they can start to recognise why they are comparing themselves, what is fuelling their long hours, lack of work-life boundaries and high expectations of themselves and others. By befriending their imposter, they can start to identify their triggers.

5. Claim their rightful place

Perhaps your leader resents responsibility that promotions have heaped on them? Especially if their self-esteem is tied up with what they do for a living, they may worry about what others think. They sometimes fear that they will lose their money, status and job if they make mistakes or appear incompetent.

Try to foster creative brainstorming and mind-maps to help them discuss solutions for problems. Get them to embed feedback into their daily routines

Self-sabotage can be closely linked with a leader’s self-image. Their fears of success may be tied up with their past experience including those from childhood. However, they owe it to themselves and their teams to identify their actions and thoughts of self- limitation. They should tell themselves often that they deserve fulfilling and successful businesses, careers and family lives. 

What can L&D do about this? Suggest the leaders write affirmations, journal or simply repeat these positive mantras. Encourage them to make positivity part of team meetings by identifying and rewording negative statements.

Try to foster creative brainstorming and mind-maps to help them discuss solutions for problems. Get them to embed feedback into their daily routines. It’s all about training thoughts that feedback is not a personal threat but another perspective which there is the choice to acknowledge.

See the silver lining

Encouraging your leadership team to see the silver linings in adversity and the lessons learnt; helping them to expect and plan for setbacks; advising them to let go of perfectionism and befriend the imposter are all strategies to help sack their self-sabotage for good. Only then will your leaders finally be ready to claim their rightful place and start to see themselves as the hero of their own success story. 

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