"We have met the enemy and the enemy is us."
As the saying goes, we can often be our own worst enemy.
Mistakenly, we believe that this enemy within us is the hyper-critical one, telling us we can't do anything right.
However, the real enemy within is the self-protective one, telling you that you are right and that have done no wrong. This is the enemy that really holds you back.
Confronting your own shortfalls and admitting blame is harder than it sounds because this behavior doesn't often come naturally.
We naturally don't want to be so vulnerable as to admit to shortcomings, faults or wrong-doings. Instead, we naturally want to self-preserve and self-protect. Research shows that we are more likely to rate ourselves more favorably on key attributes vs. how our peers, our bosses or our associates would rate us (or our spouses). In part, some of this self-inflation is driven by the natural need to self-protect.
And yet, what is counter intuitive about this is that the more you self-protect, the more you actually self-defeat.
By over protecting yourself, you hold yourself back. You can't lead others or even lead yourself when you are in a state of self-preservation; whether it's protecting your job, protecting your status, or protecting your turf.
In my work as a coach I hear it all the time: "How can my boss care about me and my development when all he is worried about is his job?" Or the boss who says "How can I worry about developing others when all I am concerned about is holding onto my job?"
Unfortunately, during these tough and insecure economic times with nearly 10% unemployment, there is more self-protectionism than we care to admit.
My own worst case of self-protection came about when I had a boss who I felt was not on my side. I went overboard trying to shore up my business, my team and my results. So much so, that I was blinded to what I may have been doing wrong or in hearing any valuable feedback.
During that time, I was holding on to my job with the tightest of grips. Unfortunately, as a result of protecting myself so fiercely, it also happened to be when I was the most inflexible, argumentative and uncooperative.
You see, when we over protect ourselves, we don't often show our best attributes. When we believe that we are under attack or being blamed, the natural reaction is to shore up and hold on, and sometimes even push further. However, a smart leader leans into this feedback with an openness and acceptance to self-adjust, self-correct and learn.
It is in our most unsure moments where we may be riddled with insecurity that we need to accept that we may not have it all buttoned up right. With this acceptance we can lead others more effectively and lead ourselves towards growth.
So what can you do to grow as a leader if you know you are in a self-protection mode?
1. Start a dialogue with your boss, your team, and your colleagues. Ask for pointed, constructive input on the impact of your actions.
2. Listen to the feedback with openness and a willingness to adjust. Try to keep your defenses down; fighting against feedback with denial only hurts you, not others.
3. Affirm your value and strengths to yourself. Self-protective behavior usually is the result of an insecurity that only you can fill.
4. Recognize that strength comes from admitting fault and being vulnerable. These are not signs of weakness, but important leadership qualities.
5. Realize that the best way to impact change is to start with yourself! Do what you can to get out of your own way.