Two Ways to Sabotage Your Leadership

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you. ~Travis Bradberry

There are two behaviors that I have watched leaders practice that sabotage their leadership. Yes, we could certainly list more than “two.” However, I think these two behaviors begin very subtly, and then snowball into default behaviors that can be destructive and go undetected by the leader. They are complaining and blaming. The two are interrelated and possibly interdependent.

Sabotage Leadership with Complaining

You may view yourself as a fairly positive and optimistic person. Yet what others see might be quite different. Complaining can become a blind spot, even for CEOs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if you’ve subtly become a complainer.

  1. Are people frequently slow to return your calls or emails?
  2. Do people listen to you for a few polite minutes and then need to go to an appointment or take another call?
  3. Do others vent to you, or are you always the venter and never the ventee?
  4. Are you complaining about the same thing now that you were six months ago?
  5. Following a meeting, presentation, event, etc. do you talk first about what everyone did poorly?

Sabotage Leadership with Blaming

I recall a CEO who was providing a corporate update at an all-employee meeting. In his effort to be “transparent” he said he was going to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. When he got to “the ugly” part of his presentation he zeroed-in on one specific department. Essentially, he said that the organization’s lackluster bottom line was all their fault. He put the blame squarely on a department that actually depended upon his participation in order to be successful.

Peter Bregman wrote in HBR (April 8, 2013): “Take the blame for anything you’re even remotely responsible for.” Bregman says:

This solution [taking the blame] transforms all the negative consequences of blaming others into positive ones. It solidifies relationships, improves your credibility, makes you and others happy, reinforces transparency, improves self-esteem, increases learning, and solves problems.

It takes courage to own your blame, and that shows strength. Being defensive makes you slippery. Taking responsibility makes you trustworthy.

The CEO in my example believed he was doing a good thing, being transparent. Transparency is a good thing; however, it’s unfortunate that he sacrificed the credibility of being transparent by pointing fingers, blaming others, and not taking any personal responsibility for something he really was partially responsible for.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to consider how you might be defaulting to blaming without even realizing it.

  1. When you debrief with others, does your name rarely appear on the list of whose responsible for mistakes?
  2. Do you communicate who the “culprit” is for unsuccessful efforts, rather than identify how you will take responsibility?
  3. Are you still trying to solve a problem that was identified months ago?

John Maxwell said, “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” That’s a really good example of leading with bold grace.

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