Are You Sabotaging Yourself as a Leader?


Distinctions: you’re sabotaging yourself vs not taking the right actions to achieve your goals.

How do you know you’re sabotaging yourself? 

  • You’re not taking the actions of which you’re consciously aware.
  • For ex: you’re supposed to eat a vegan diet to heal your digestive problems, yet you cheat with cheesecake.
  • Or you’re supposed to ensure the legal contracts are ready for your upcoming business development meeting with a prospective partner.

How do you know you’re sabotaging yourself as a leader and/or sabotaging others?

  • You’re doing things that undermine their success.
  • For ex: you’ve just hired team members who need project-specific training, yet you don’t find time to do it. This sabotages your influence/credibility as a leader, as well as their ability to contribute from day 1.

How do you know you’re not doing the right things to achieve your goals?

  • When nothing works regardless of what you do, check your self-sabotage and if you’re doing everything you can, consider the feedback (the fact that nothing works) a timing issue.
  • When some things work when you’re putting all your effort in, the feedback is teaching you which actions work and which don’t.

Common ways leaders sabotage themselves:

  • Avoid dealing with conflict, in the moment. Most wait until the problem is intolerable, making things more difficult to solve.
  • Avoid asking for what’s needed to achieve goals and responsibilities. Most leaders try to do their best with the resources they have, knowing full well things won’t work out well, and then feel frustrated when others don’t appreciate their effort amidst a resource-constrained environment.
  • Avoid asking for clarity around job role, team responsibilities, project time lines, goals and the like. Most leaders fear that their questions will reduce their credibility, when in fact, acting without clarity undermines leaders’ credibility.
  • Avoid dealing with emotions — their own or those of others. People are emotional beings, regardless of the fact that emotions have been undermined since the Age of Reason. When emotions are ignored, they don’t go away, rather intensify and then surface at the most inopportune time. For ex, when team members are frustrated at either changing visions, goals or timelines, they try to keep their emotions in check, but emotions leak out all over the place. Things go well when leaders face emotions with simple questions such as “what’s the worst case scenario here?” (which is a rational question that leads to people’s fears and other emotions) and can then steer the team toward the ideal outcome.
  • Use judgements, criticisms or blame. These are destructive behaviors that postpone the focus on the challenges at hand. For ex, leaders often blame team employee “quality” and replace them to get “better ones,” when in fact, people respond to contexts and change accordingly. See some interesting research on that topic, starting with a TED talk.

What to do?

The way to get around self-sabotage is to face the reasons you’re not doing what you know you need to do. This requires facing fears of success, failure and other consequences of your actions. Elicit help from friends, executive/life coaches or anyone else you can find who is capable of helping you step out of self-sabotage and move into self-empowerment.

The way to get around sabotaging others is the same as facing your own self-sabotage. You’re likely doing it for the same reasons.

The way to continue to invest in your goals without worry of sabotage is to keep doing what you know you need to do to get good results and continue to learn new ways to generate the outcomes you want.

[image from Freepik]