Embrace Your Dysfunction

Recently I was talking to an executive about their leadership strategies. They rated themselves very highly, saying things like, "I am really empathetic and I create an environment where people can express things to me without retribution. Also I see myself as a coach who fosters my team's development and have a strong relationship with each and every one of them". Then I spoke to the team to get feedback their leadership style. I heard things like, "they are an ego maniac who's only focus is to better their career; they are a tyrant who uses fear to get people to engage." I was gobsmacked at this leader's lack of self-awareness. Then that night I came across the following quote:

"If you're pretty crazy then you're in good company because the human race as a whole is out of it's goddam head. Now all of you, of course, know this about others – about your mother and father and sister and brothers and friends and wives and husbands. You know how nutty they are. Now the problem is to admit this about yourself, and then do something about it."

Who made such a confronting and hard-hitting statement? It was none other than Albert Ellis, one of the most well respected clinical psychologists to draw breath and pioneer of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Then it dawned on me that he is right!

The most common thing I hear when people come up to me after I finish a presentation is, "If only my partner were here, they need this stuff" or "If only my team were here, they are so negative and dysfunctional". No one has ever said "Wow I just realised that I am the dysfunctional pain in the ass in my team. I have been stirring up trouble and undermining my manager for years, I need to fix this."

We seem to chronically lack self-awareness. Being self-aware is an immense skill that is needed by all of us whether we are a leader or a team member.

I recently conducted a workshop called "It's not me, it's you!" which talked about the dysfunctions of teams. One of the greatest dysfunctions we can have in a team is that its members have a low level of self-awareness and a high level of judgement. We often think that our behaviour is reasonable and are quick to judge the people who lead/manage us; our team members; and the people we lead. The question is why? Well that is the $64,000 dollar question! It comes down to a number of reasons:

It is easier to blame others than look at our own behaviour.
It feels good to judge others, because we feel so right.
When we publically blame/judge/persecute others we elevate ourselves in the social hierarchy.
We are simply ignorant to our behaviour at times.
We simply can't entertain the thought that we are not perfect.
Half way through the workshop we talked about how it is ok to admit that we get things wrong and we are never going to act perfectly all the time. Also we looked at how we can exhibit some dysfunctional behaviour and still be a good person. Following this there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief, people started to open up and they talked about how they thought that getting negative feedback on their behaviour was a personal attack. It started a conversation that we rarely have yet so desperately need to. It opened up dialogue and made it ok to have these often challenging conversations.

Then someone in the group said that they had a great leader in their organisation. She said that what made them great was that they asked for feedback on their behaviour and took it on board without taking offence and making the team pay for it later. "One day I told my manager that when things are very busy and we have tight deadlines, they become aggressive and curt. This really unsettles the team and reduces our productivity and shoots up our stress levels. The great thing was his response to this. He said he had no idea he acted like this, then apologised and said "I will really work on this and when we have our monthly catch ups can you let me know how I am going?"

My challenge to you is make a concerted effort to improve your self-awareness.

Step 1: Start to objectively observe your behaviour. Is it reasonable? Do you get involved in office gossip? Are you overly sensitive? Do you persecute people in the organisation without talking to them about issues?

Step 2: Start to examine how your behaviour impacts on other people around you. In my seminars I talk about a concept called "Showing Up", it looks at how we show up for each part of our life. In a sense it is about taking personal responsibility for the state we "show up in". Can we show up more enthusiastic, more empathetic, more engaged?

Step 3: Allow people to give you honest feedback on your behaviour. When was the last time you allowed someone to tell us how it is?

Step 4: Can you park your ego and take the feedback on board, rather than take offense and keep it in your black book to use against them later on? To do this we have to be comfortable and secure in who we are. The best leaders/team members are the ones that don't have to prove anything and aren't driven by their ego.

Go forth and embrace your dysfunction!