Are You a Defensive Leader?

Many leaders and bosses today run away from unsolicited feedback, helpful criticism, and being told they failed or made a mistake. Instead of listening and learning, they become defensive by justifying or excusing their behaviors. This bad habit makes it challenging to have conversations for improvement and to create positive outcomes for situations or relationships.

When Collette received negative feedback from her male co-workers, she seethed underneath but pretended to handle it well. After all, she knew her profession better than they did. To feel better about herself, she shared her concerns with Pam, a female co-worker in a different department. The conversation went well until Pam asked for positive support from Collette about her issue. Collette due to her need to feel superior blamed Pam for the problem instead of offering sound advice.

Defensive leaders often feel the need to hurt others to feel superior, which limits their ability to address their own insecurities and challenges.

Do you become defensive when you have:

  • Waited too long to address issues?
  • Relied on facts that others dispute?
  • Taken comments personally, even when they are meant as compliments?
  • Refused to work with a coach or mentor, fearing they will only tell you what you are doing wrong?
  • Failed to set expectations, which includes policies and procedures?
  • Blamed others for wasting time offering new ideas or solutions you don’t understand?

While leaders and bosses can be level-headed, emotionally intelligent, and good listeners, when feedback is offered, these same people can become defensive by blaming others, creating a myriad of excuses, and overreacting (sometimes for hours and days).

Consider that your defensiveness as a leader/boss will derail your career, especially when your inability to hear what you don’t want to hear costs the company customers, top talent, and required results.

Tips to Overcome Being Defensive

First, Calm Down. Your effectiveness is limited when you are snarky or defending what you’ve done or not done. Breathe and become mindful of what triggered your reaction. Then, talk with a trusted confidant to learn how to move forward. (HINT: When listening, stay away from “Yeah, but!”)

Work with An Executive Coach. Many defensive leaders and bosses fail to hire a coach. Why? They believe their defensive reactions are reasonable and that a coach will tell them they can control and manage their emotional intelligence. The right coach will provide objective data to help address “why” and solutions to improve your working relationships. Also, consider hiring a therapist to work through the feelings that erupt when team members, bosses, or customers confront and upset you.

Use the What Worked? / What Didn’t Work? Exercise. Take time to complete this exercise to gain insights into the true issue. It clarifies what happened and diminishes your emotional reactions (and attachments) so you can address the facts. Now, have a conversation to resolve the mistake, failure, or conflict.

Ask for Actionable Feedback. It can be unpleasant when people offer feedback that is too general or based on others’ feelings. Ask for specific facts so you can learn what the actual issue is. This makes it easier to hear others’ concerns and to know what to do in the future.

Ask Open-Ended Questions. When feeling confronted, ask for their side of the issue or upset. Listen. Stick with the facts and not your or their emotional reactions, which can and does change with each telling of the story.

Don’t Respond to Emails/Texts. Sadly, too many people today lack the communication skills necessary to share their concerns in a helpful manner. Don’t interact in an email or text (emojis and AI cannot address the real issues). Instead, schedule a 1:1 conversation and ask questions. Listen and be open to their point of view. (Remember, you can agree to disagree.)

Don’t Threaten or Call Others Liars. STOP when you want to lash out at others to express your anger! Leave the situation and talk with your coach, boss, or human resources rep to address the problem.

What Do You Do to Move Forward? Apologize. Understand trust has been broken and it may take a long time to regain trust with your bosses, team members, or clients. If your defensiveness continues, it’s time to seek a different job. Being in the wrong job or working in a poorly run company is stressful. Act now to avoid YOU gaining a bad reputation.

©Jeannette Seibly 2024  All Rights Reserved

Jeannette Seibly is a Talent Advisor/Leadership Results Coach with over 31 years of practical experience guiding leaders and bosses to improve their hiring, coaching, and managing practices and produce amazing results! And yes, achieving business success always starts with having the right people in the right jobs! She has been an Authorized PXT Select® Partner for over 32 years. Contact Jeannette to learn more about these state-of-the-art job-fit assessment tools or how to coach and manage your people to achieve incredible results.

A note from Jeannette: Due to the many demands on leaders/bosses today, many are defensive when offered coaching or essential feedback. This reaction will limit career opportunities and the ability for others to work with you. It’s time to get objective input via the PXT Select Leadership Report! This invaluable assessment will provide critical insights for your growth and improvement! Let’s talk now — before it’s too late. Contact me!

Now is the time to get into focused action! Are there days you dread doing what is needed to manage your people, projects, and team’s financial performance? You’re not alone! Everyone has those days! But continuing to hide behind excuses only hurts you and your future promotability. I have extensive experience and wisdom guiding bosses and leaders to hire, coach, and manage their teams successfully – this includes getting you out of the way and working with and through people effectively to achieve the results required. Contact me to learn more about my in-depth, one-on-one, customized coaching programs.

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