Defense mechanisms—unconscious responses that protect us from anxiety and internal conflict—are part of being human. We all have them. And although they often cause harm, in some situations they can actually be useful. What matters in life and in leadership is what we do with them.
Failure to understand and deal with your defense mechanisms is particularly damaging in a managerial job where relationships with others are critical and you set the standard for the workplace culture of your entire team.
Everyone’s defense mechanisms work differently. But whatever form they take, it is possible to master defensive responses and harmful habits—to use them so that they help you, not hold you back.
Here are the top ideas I share with my leadership coaching clients to overcome their own defense mechanisms:
Cultivate self-awareness. A necessary first stop is to understand how you use defense mechanisms when you feel vulnerable. Think about what situations usually trigger protective reactions and how you usually respond. Think about how your behavior could harm you and those around you, and imagine other ways of responding to situations that seem threatening.
Make room for acceptance. If you feel yourself drifting into a defensive response, stop and give yourself a short time-out. Take a few minutes to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Identify these thoughts and feelings and work to accept them without judgment. From there, you can focus on a healthy response.
Hold yourself accountable. Defense mechanisms are often a way to make excuses or blame others for things we cannot be responsible for. Remind yourself often that you can’t control other people’s actions or responses, but you can control your own. Then spend some time each day reflecting on your actions and whether they were effective, reasonable, and aligned with your values and goals. If you need help with accountability, consider hiring a mentor or leadership coach to help you.
Crack the code. As humans, we tend to follow certain encoded patterns of behavior, and defense mechanisms relate to these patterns. But if something doesn’t work for you, you can let go of the unhealthy pattern and establish new, more healthy patterns and habits.
From my decades of experience as a leadership coach, I know that even top leaders around the world sometimes struggle to overcome defense mechanisms and other problematic habits. And I know that it takes effort and practice to overcome them. But I’ve also seen results and know it’s worth the effort.
Manage from within: Everyone deals with defense mechanisms. But if you’re relying on negative behavior patterns and making excuses when you can make progress, it’s time to review your behavior and make the changes you need to make to become the leader you need to be.
#1 NATIONAL BEST SELLER
The leadership gap
What stands between you and your greatness
After decades of coaching influential leaders around the world, Loli Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions based on a specific set of values and traits. But over time, every manager reaches a point when his performance suffers and failures persist. Very few people understand why and how to prevent it.
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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought after leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural experience spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As the founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is designed to be a catalyst for leaders who want to improve performance and make a real difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.
Among Loli’s many awards and accolades, Loli was appointed a Top 50 experts in the field of leadership and management Inc. magazine. The Huffington Post awarded Loli the title The most inspiring woman in the world. Her articles have appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, among others. Her latest book, The Leadership Gap: What Separates You from Your Greatness became a national bestseller.