When low employee morale and a general malaise permeated Mississauga, Ont.-based TransGlobe Property Management Services, CEO Leonard Drimmer did what smart entrepreneurs do: search for the cause. That was a lot easier said than done.
“We recognized that there was a problem,” says Drimmer, “but we couldn’t put our finger on it.” Progress only came months later, when Drimmer read a newspaper article entitled “Culture change starts with management” and called its author, Jim Clemmer, for help.
After meeting with Drimmer and his employees, it quickly became apparent to Clemmer, a Kitchener, Ont.-based management consultant specializing in leadership performance, that the problem stemmed from Drimmer. “What we found was a classic high-growth dilemma,” says Clemmer. “TransGlobe management was very hands-on, controlling every aspect of the company, and it had reached a choke point.” Employees suffocated and fun drained out of the workplace, taking a bite out of productivity.
When a company stumbles, the cause can usually be traced to dysfunctional management. Even the smartest CEOs can unconsciously sabotage their performance and derail the best projects and people with self-defeating behaviours. Negative personality traits or bad habits, such as micromanaging and procrastination, can short-circuit an otherwise commendable CEO and the progress of a company.
The good news is you can learn to spot the weak points in your personality and take steps to change them.
Self-defeating behaviours often develop to help you cope with overwhelming stress, when you’re focussed on short-term relief versus long-term goals. Repeat these patterns enough and they become hard-wired. Worse, you’re usually unaware of them. “We don’t walk around with mirrors,” says Anne Thornley-Brown, president of Executive Oasis International in Aurora, Ont. “We all have blind spots.”
The most prevalent self-defeating behaviour among CEOs is micromanaging, says Thornley-Brown, followed by perfectionism, procrastination, overpromising and an inability to listen.
Ironically, self-defeating behaviours are often virtues gone bad, says Judi Walsh, president of ASK Corporate Services in Toronto. “To me, every management skill you have is potentially both an asset and a liability.” As a firm grows and a CEO’s role evolves, for example, his or her behaviour may not.
At TransGlobe, a third-generation family-owned business, hands-on management was an ingrained tradition. Since the problem resided in the executive office, says Clemmer, nobody wanted to talk about it.
Off-site retreats, at which employees could speak freely, helped identify the trouble spots. TransGlobe responded by developing its first formal organizational chart. “We gave people clear positions and clear responsibility to do what they were supposed to do,” says Drimmer. Hiring policies also changed. TransGlobe sought out higher-calibre management employees, who were empowered to take charge of their departments.
“It was hard to change,” admits Drimmer. “We had to shift away from doing it ourselves to seeing that it’s done. At the beginning, it was very scary to let go, but it was the best thing we could have done.”
So, what are the signs that you may be exhibiting self-defeating behaviours? “Disaffected employees,” says Walsh. A self-defeating leader will find him- or herself leading a team that is plagued by low morale, frequent sick days or a high turnover rate.
With hard work, you can break old patterns.
Start by heightening your self-awareness. Pay attention to your actions, thoughts and feelings in workplace situations. Decide which behaviours you need to change to be more effective. To keep yourself honest, surround yourself with people who will let you know when you’re getting in your own way.
A 360-degree review, whereby your performance is evaluated by peers, subordinates and even clients, can also shed light on how others perceive you.
Also consider hiring a coach to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, set goals and develop an action plan to meet them.
Keep in mind that enlightenment is no silver bullet. Changing a self-defeating behaviour is a long process that requires time and commitment. Old dogs can learn new tricks, but they need incentives.