Some of us may have hired a coach to get stuff done. What we discover in being coached over time, is that we need to conquer plenty of disempowering stories we have about ourselves, our leadership, or the forces that are out to stop us.
This is the context we bring to all situations. Over time we’ve trained ourselves to operate with a healthy context in certain areas, like brushing our teeth for example. While in others, such as hitting our 8-figure revenue target, we may struggle to overcome the internal gremlins who tell us it’s not possible.
The good news? No one is immune.
The internal struggle is real when it comes to accomplishing anything new. When I coach high-performing, C-level executives and start-up founders, I see these unhelpful contexts show up everywhere as four common “saboteurs.” These shadowy figures are what we call survival mechanisms in coaching. They exist to protect us from something we fear. Sadly, that may also include the thing we want to accomplish.
When leaders indulge in poor behavior, such as screaming to make themselves heard or shutting others down, it’s usually not their intention. Poor behavior is largely unconscious. It happens when we feel we’re under threat—out of money, out of time, or out of options. Our saboteurs take the wheel, and we start making messes we need to clean up later. At the very least, we slow ourselves down on our goals.
Notice if any of these saboteurs show up for you.
This one comes out when leaders get spooked into constantly putting out fires. Whenever our sense of urgency over-corrects into moving faster than everyone else (at all times), trust will suffer. Speedy Rabbit is over-caffeinated, judgmental of everyone not moving fast enough, and will insist they are crushing it while they’re pitting out in their suit jacket.
This one wears either a perma-grin mask or is completely devoid of emotional vulnerability. When we work for leaders who never remove their Game Face, there is a lack of trust. The leader also suffers because they’re too proud or overwhelmed to receive help from others. They’re protecting themselves from fully owning their feelings.
The Phantom Pest
This one is confronted by their own power. This is the CEO who swoops down to critique the PowerPoint fonts, while they could be creating bigger partnerships. Instead of stepping boldly into the unknown, where they’ll find the next innovation, or fully mobilize their team, The Phantom Pest stays hidden in the details, while driving everyone up the walls.
This one is the anti-matter of team players. They can’t figure out why everyone keeps quitting, or why their culture feels like something is missing. CEOs or founders who show up like the Dark Star, are protecting themselves from the complexities of leading others. They might say things like, “I am holding space for everyone” while the rest of us see them as completely inaccessible, or aloof.
How to outwit each one of these saboteurs
Outwitting these saboteurs to make new, big things happen takes practice. The great news is that if you’re willing to show up a little differently and embrace some discomfort, there are simple practices to move beyond these characters.
Speedy Rabbit needs to relax. A simple, daily mindfulness or meditation habit helps us see things as they are, versus running ourselves ragged trying to control everything.
Game Face can practice owning and sharing their feelings. Being honest about the thoughts, feelings, and even body sensations we bring into a meeting is a start.
The Phantom Pest is a great candidate for coaching because they need the practice of owning their power. Surrounding themselves with leaders they can trust and empower—while not swooping in to micromanage—is crucial.
Dark Star needs to practice leadership as small-to-large acts of service. It can be a huge responsibility but doesn’t need to be a burden. Surrendering into service reconnects them to everyone and everything their work touches. Even the reframe works wonders.
Leaders are busy people. We tend to prefer things that way. There’s nothing wrong with being busy. However, we need to be aware when our busy-ness gets in the way of what we need to accomplish. Staying busy can become an easy place to hide.
The actual work we discover is two-fold. There is of course all the work in “doing the thing.” More importantly in my experience, are the practices that move you around your saboteurs.
Kristoffer Carter is an author, speaker, and executive coach. He is the founder of This Epic Life, a website devoted to conscious leadership that has a daily meditation practice for thousands. His new book, Permission to Glow: A Spiritual Guide to Epic Leadership releases October 2021.