Interference shows up when you are experiencing a perceived vulnerability or a complex situation.

“It’s like having an old operating system for your computer…The operating system of our minds has a quirk when we are working in complexity, and that quirk set us on a course of action that is the exact opposite of what the situation really needs.” Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps, Jennifer Garvey Berger

Interference will tell you things like:

  • It’s your job to make sure the whole company succeeds.
  • I need to perform to prove my worth.
  • Other leaders have teams that work well together, but your team needs constant hand holding and you should be involved in every decision.
  • You must look like you have the right answers even when you don’t have a clue so that your team respects you and understands that you are the boss.
  • You must pick up the slack for anyone running behind. After all, it’s your team.
  • Push hard for success. You must prove you are worth it.
  • If you work hard, they will know that you are worth having this position.
  • The leader before you did a great job and everyone loved her. Now, how do you beat that?
  • Don’t grow too fast, you might fail.
  • Be careful about new ideas, what if they don’t work?
  • Your customers depend on you.
  • You are accountable to the stakeholders.
  • What are “they” saying about you?
  • You should probably be at every meeting.
  • Make sure you don’t make a mistake, and if you do, find someone else to take the blame.
  • I can’t own my mistakes, that would make me look weak and unprepared.

In these cases, your stress level can be very high, you’re on edge, you’ve moved into a high-level pass/fail complex performance state. If you are driven by performance, failure is inevitable. You will become laser focused on the possibility of failure and on who will take the blame. Or, you will work so hard to make sure no one on your team fails that you burn yourself out and you start taking on jobs and responsibilities that are not yours.

Without realizing it, you dis-empower your team and your people will stop working. You put them in a double bind because you send them mixed messages.

You are the gas and they are the engine. Let them be the engine.

You can’t serve in both positions effectively.

How might interference be showing up in your work?  

Here’s an example:

I’m working with a leader who was recently promoted from a VP of Operations to the COO position. She is a competent leader with the skills and experience she needs to successfully lead the company. However, after stepping into the new role, she went from working an average of 12 hour days to 15 hour days. She was uncomfortable with it, not to mention tired and running at a pace that was not sustainable.

During our conversation, she explored her reasoning for the increase in her hours when she had the support and expertise of a great team.

I asked her this question, “how much of this work are you doing to make up for a lack of confidence and how much of it really needs to be done?” She quickly identified that about thirty-percent of what she was doing was to prove herself in this new role. Upon reflection, we established that she’d already proven herself. She was promoted to the new role because she was the right leader and fit for the position. As we talked, she realized that in this new position, she didn’t need to have the right answers. She needed to put people in place who had the right answers and who could do the job. She recognized that there was a lot of emotional interference that,if left unchecked, would have worn her into the ground.

The way out:

Once you recognize that you are in the Interference trap, there is a way out.

  • Reconnect to who you are. Your unique talents, skills and your role as the leader. What is your critical contribution?
  • Reconnect to your values and what matters most to your company and your team.
  • Challenge your assumptions of how you think things should go and ask the important question: What if we did it differently?
  • Reconnect to your team. What is their critical contribution?
  • Learn to trust your team and the people around you to get the job done. Trust their abilities more than you trust your ability. Ask the question,”what caused me to lose trust in my team and how can I reestablish it?

Too often, executives are going so fast and pushing so hard while focusing on the goal, that they are not aware when interference is being disruptive in their business or their lives. They find themselves in a double bind by creating a scenario where there’s no true win because of the emotional, physical and professional cost of winning.

The way out is to strengthen your Interference Awareness and to ask for help to sort it out when you need a perspective shift. In the long run, you will feel freer and more confident in your leadership role and empower your team to be more confident in their roles.

In Summary:

Every change for a leader (even a good one) has the potential to be temporarily disruptive during the learning or adjustment phase, especially when we go into an expanded role. It’s an opportune time for interference to show up and pull leaders off track. The key is being aware of what’s happening so that you don’t give it power or authority to direct actions or strategy.

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