Managerial Self-Deception

Try telling a colleague or subordinate that he has a problem, and the depth of his self-deception will become clear.

Helping others see what they’re unable to recognize is a widespread leadership challenge. And it’s one of the prime reasons my clients engage me as an executive coach. It’s especially tricky when we observe blind spots in others, yet are unable to acknowledge it in ourselves.

Even the most astute managers, no matter how much leadership training or executive coaching they’ve had, can harbor self-deceiving tendencies. All it takes is elevated stress for this occupational virus to sideline you—and it’s usually contagious, spreading throughout the work force.

Managers often pride themselves on how well they listen and show interest in subordinates’ family members. Some have received training in how to express “authentic” empathy. But people have keen internal radar systems, and they almost always detect efforts to manipulate them. If they think their boss is trying to outsmart them or clumsily demonstrating a learned management skill, they can smell the hypocrisy a mile away. It’s exceptionally difficult to feign genuine interest.

No matter what we do on the outside, people primarily respond to how we feel about them on the inside. It takes deep honesty and empathy to generate performance gains.

Always remember that no matter how nice you are when “suggesting” an improvement, your employees will have an internal reaction. That said, there’s no need to go overboard and kill them with kindness. You can be firm, yet invite a productivity or commitment upgrade.

This isn’t easy. Giving feedback that works to motivate improved performance never is. Quite frankly, unless you’ve worked on your own issues, you’ll struggle. Unless you’ve uncovered your own layers of self-deception, through the process of self-development and executive coaching, it will be hard to offer up your own stories and examples to help others improve.

If you haven’t experienced the benefits of coaching, please let me know. I probably have a few suggestions that you’d find helpful. Contact me here.

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