D is for Defensive

Last week I wrapped up my leader performance/growth reviews. I had some great conversations with my leaders, and in addition to discussing their growth, I thoroughly appreciate their feedback on where they see opportunity for me to grow.

One of the questions I ask each of my leaders to answer about me is, “What three areas do you feel I should improve on?”

The topic of defensiveness came from one of my key leaders in response to this question. She said that I needed to do better at listening and not being so defensive. Well, I have to admit that my first thought was, “Defensive?! How am I defensive???” Haha. Just kidding! I really tried hard to shut up and listen. Her point was valid, and it opened my eyes to a blind spot that I didn’t realize I had. I’d like to think I am a very open-minded and approachable leader, but occasionally, when another teammate wants to approach me or discuss a topic that I feel very passionate in my stance about, I see that I can be defensive.

Why Being “Defensive” is a Weakness in Leadership

I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the subject of being defensive since our conversation. Why and when are leaders defensive? Is it ever okay to be defensive? Here are my thoughts.

Leaders can be defensive when they:

  • Don’t want to discuss the issue.
  • Don’t want to be questioned about their decision.
  • Are feeling insecure.
  • Made a mistake and don’t want to admit it.
  • Made a decision and can’t change it.

Ways we reveal our defensiveness:

  • By arguing or hotly debating, instead of listening.
  • By our aggressive or defensive body language and facial expressions.
  • By ignoring or sidestepping the issue rather than engaging in the subject that our peer wants and needs to discuss.
  • By creating topics that “are not safe” to discus with us. Over time, even our key leaders learn that they “can’t go there.” This is NOT good and will damage momentum.
  • When you desire to debate, yet it comes across as being defensive.

When we are defensive, we put up a wall – one brick at a time. While our lips might say, “I’m approachable. I want you lead up to me,” our defensiveness says the opposite. And just to clarify, there is a difference between “defending” and being “defensive.”

We can defend our beliefs, our products, or our team without being defensive. Defending is what we do, but defensive is how we feel. When we become “defensive,” the issue becomes personal. We’re no longer approaching the situation with a clear head. Our emotions begin clouding our judgment. There is no place for defensiveness in leadership.

In what areas can you be defensive? How is that defensiveness impacting your team, and what do you need to do differently?

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