Taking Off the Protective Armour

Almost all organizations spend the majority of their time and money focused on elevating their leadership team’s outer game rather than the inner game. They focus on daily management, process improvement, project management, change management, throughput time, efficiency, time management ….all very important realms of delivering results in business.  They need to invest more on executive coaching and elevating their employees inner game.

The rub is that the inner game of leadership completely drives the outer game and the results that an individual achieves for the organization. You cannot achieve top performance sustainably without a leadership team that works on and is coached on their inner game.  The inner game involves integrity, caring, collaborating, authenticity, community concern, ongoing learning and development.

Just over one week ago, I have the privilege of attending a three-day immersive Leadership Circle Profile workshop in Toronto, Ontario. It was a certification that I have been wanting to take for a long time, and I was really excited about it. The Leadership Circle Profile is the most robust 360 degree assessment that I have come across in my 15+ years in human resources. It is based on 20 years of research. The leader self-assesses and is assessed by their peers, boss, bosses boss, direct reports, and others, and can see their overall leadership effectiveness score and how it compares to over 1,200 Executives across the world who have completed the same assessment in the database. 18 creative leadership competencies and 11 reactive competencies are assessed and all roll up into categories.

When I showed up for the training in Toronto, I thought I was showing up to get certified in how to interpret and administer a 360 degree leadership assessment. Boy was I wrong! It would be an under statement to say that I had the slightest clue about what these three days would involve. The assessment was just the framework, we were there to learn how to be better leaders through discussing and unpacking the results of our individual leadership circle profiles. There was a giant “Leadership Circle” mat on the floor and we started the day by sitting around the circle and introducing ourselves and to share the strongest reactive part of our leadership profile, or the parts of our “inner game” that we needed to work on the most…I felt the panic hit me like a load of bricks. My first thought… exactly how much of myself am I going to have to share here…

My reactive parts were in the Protecting category and they were kicking into full gear. In particular, the reactive leadership competency that scored the highest for me, was Distance with comments like “Susan can be hard to get to know and can come across as emotionally aloof.” This can’t right…I do care about people. When it came my turn to share, I told the group that “emotions make me uncomfortable and that I do not like it when people are emotional at work.” The facilitator asked me if I would be willing to open up a little over the next three days and be open to “some emotions bubbling up over the next three days“. Not much chance of that, I thought to myself…

Turns out she was right….during these three highly emotionally charged days, I was completely out of my comfort zone and had some major insights about how to Start to Remove the Armour that I put on when I go out into the world. For any one else that is highly protective maybe this will resonate with you. My insights that were discovered through coaching with my partner during the three days were:

When I don’t express any emotions or share little that I am thinking on a personal level, people fill in the blanks and assume that I don’t care or think that I hold myself above them (which I don’t). Building strong relationships of trust, require that I share a bit about myself, so others feel comfortable sharing about themselves. It is okay to say things as a leader like “This is frightening” or “I do not know where to start.” This makes you human, and makes people want to help and figure it out together as a team. You do not need to have all the answers as a leader, and no one expects you to know it all.

Thinking rationally with intellect and feeling the emotion of a situation are not mutually exclusive. My belief before this session was that if you are feeling emotions it will shut down the thinking part of your brain that makes for smart business decisions. The gift of strong protecting types is that often you have a strong intellect as you are observing others behaviours and listening closely to what others say. This type often knows the way forward in a meeting before anyone else does, but they seldom vocalize it! My belief was that I didn’t want to cloud my cognitive skills with emotions…the thinking skills that help me with strong business analysis, writing a clear email, setting and communicating a strategy. As a woman in the workplace, I was always super proud of my ability to suppress my emotions. The last thing I wanted was for my emotions to be visible to anyone in the workplace. I wanted to be perceived as equally strong to my male counterparts and certainly did not want to appear as vulnerable or weak. WRONG! Vulnerability drives leadership effectiveness and profitability. Just watch Brene Brown’s Netflix special on Netflix The Call to Courage.

Now, I realize my ability to feel and express emotions is a female super power that all female and male leaders should embrace as it makes us all more human and far more effective leaders.

People do want to hear my story; or at least the ones that matter do. I always thought that my life was kind of “ordinary” and that there was no point sharing anything about myself personally as I have always assumed that nobody really cares about my story. The fact is that each one of us have lives made up of a rich tapestry of events, situations, lessons, and perspectives that are worth expressing…even if we feel average or pretty normal in terms of our life events. Brene Brown talks about making your voice heard, and sharing your story with those who deserve to hear it, who earn your trust and respect over time, and the privilege and right of hearing your story. This is important for building connections in the workplace and a team that trusts each other. You need to share some of your story so others feel comfortable sharing their story with you.

Susan Power, Chief People Officer of Power HR Inc.


Author: Shahmeen Sadiq (Facilitator at Leadership Circle)

Return to dance and let the gentle undulation of your deepest

waters begin to loosen the truth you are guarding so tightly.

The world needs your voice, your truth and your purpose!

Dance and your truth will be set free.