People have different ways of coping when their leadership feels challenged. Some, feeling insecure, might be compelled to protect themselves – for example by raising themselves above others, or even feeling contempt for them.

So, they defend themselves by being critical of others, sticking their noses up. They withdraw or even behave condescendingly to others. This helps them feel better about themselves and gives them a sense of self-worth. (I’m sure we can all think of someone we know who does this.)

Thing is… this strategy is actually toxic. And it’s not good leadership.


I messed up the other day – nothing too serious – I was too critical about someone else.

Thankfully, I was reminded of Carol Dweck’s enlightening words in her book ‘Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential’, which helped me realise I was not a failure. Rather, I’d made a mistake from which I could learn and use as an opportunity for my growth. Hell, even to celebrate my failure. Ta-da!

Also, I was reminded of how Brené Brown’s speaks about self-compassion in her book: ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, so I forgave myself, let go of perfectionism and stopped beating myself up.

I told myself: I am not perfect. I am learning. And, I am enough.

Phew. Deep breath.


What was interesting was that I also saw my error through the wisdom of the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP), a clever assessment tool I use when executive coaching to help improve my clients’ leadership skills. I say clever, as it cultivates authentic change from the inside out, helping replace old patterns of action and habits of thought for new ones that yield more positive outcomes.

Looking at my mistake through the LCP model, I could see how my limiting beliefs and negative assumptions – generally the stuff I tell myself – had impacted my behaviour. I’d been critical at someone else’s expense in order to feel better about myself. According to their model, I’d inflated my own sense of self-worth, displaying a reactive behaviour that was limiting my leadership effectiveness. Not good.

In addition, the model showed that I’d not been walking my talk, not acting with integrity and authenticity. I’d acted in a way that didn’t fit with who I wanted to be, which is 1) a compassionate human being and 2) an authentic and courageous leader.

I hope I’ve learnt my lesson.


I went through the same reflection experience my clients go through when executive coaching, when we find out (amongst other things) whether they’re protecting themselves by establishing a sense of self-worth through either withdrawal, being critical and/or displaying arrogance.

We get to the heart of the stories they’re telling themselves, which helps them understand their behaviour and what’s holding back their leadership effectiveness. It’s fascinating work.


So, do you protect yourself and increase your sense of self-worth by:

  1. Behaving arrogantly – being superior, egotistical and self-centred?
  2. Being critical (like I was) and having a cynical attitude?
  3. Withdrawing, remaining aloof and being emotionally distant?

Do you recognise these leadership-limiting behaviours in yourself?


If you’re looking to improve your leadership effectiveness and need some help, then contact me about executive coaching. We’ll use the Leadership Circle Profile tool to identify key areas for the coaching to focus on in order to improve your leadership.

*With thanks to the Leadership Circle Profile.