Drop Your Defenses
As leaders, we can all get a little defensive now and then. But have you ever noticed yourself getting overly reactive on a regular basis? If so, it’s time to cool off. Habitually defensive behavior creates an atmosphere in which people walk on eggshells and struggle to communicate — primarily with you. And that’s dangerous for your business’s well-being because it can stifle transparency, ideas, productivity, profitability and progress. So let go of defenses and display confident leadership by welcoming feedback from others. This leadership trait will build your credibility and open critical lines of communication.
How do you know if you’re being so regularly overly reactive? It’s a feeling you get in your gut and one you shouldn’t ignore. I know, because early in my career, it was something I had to address, and it related mainly to my growing self-confidence and maturity as a leader. What I discovered in the process is that many leaders must learn to manage defensive tendencies if they truly want to get better at what they do. When they successfully combat this common challenge, it becomes a turning point in their career, positioning them for explosive potential.
That said, being defensive is a fairly normal tendency and something that we must continue to keep in check. Here are some important “to dos” to reel back this overly reactive behavior.
Pay attention to your gut. If you’re sensing that you’re being unnecessarily or overly defensive, it’s time for self-examination. Why are you behaving this way? Where is it coming from? Is it really true? Are you willing to change?
Ask for feedback. Collect input on your behavior by having a candid talk with your direct reports, colleagues or team members at work. Or, use a tool — send out an anonymous 360-feedback query if it’s even remotely possible you’ve cultivated a culture in which people don’t feel comfortable speaking up about your leadership style and defensive behavior. You could also ask a mentor for his or her honest opinion and get help creating the right questions to ask.
Embrace the feedback. Whether someone is speaking up about your personal leadership weaknesses or something about the company, view this input as a gift — one that can help you and your company improve. Genuinely thank that person for sharing whatever they’ve courageously chosen to tell you.
Get more facts. They’re powerful and can transform your perspective, impacting how you will react or manage alleged accusations, surfacing company information, or people’s opinions and feelings about you.
Be open to “bad news.” When you get it, start by taking a deep breath, don’t react just yet, but then as mentioned above, launch your fact-finding mission. Even the worst news can become a valuable lesson learned that can eventually spin your company compass in the right direction.
Never fight for the sake of winning. This reactive leadership style can be a career derailer. It’s a sure sign that your hot-headed ego and emotions, instead of your rational brain, are driving all you say and do. Fighting just to win eventually backfires and can damage your professional reputation for life.
Have you noticed certain patterns in how defensive behavior develops?