Courage: Ditch the Armor (Part I)Posted on January 5, 2020

Vicki Noel, MLHR, SHRM-SPC, SPHR

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Having a teenage son, I have had the pleasure of watching every Marvel movie known to humankind.   Every superhero and villain has some version of armor to protect themselves from harm.  While there is rarely a threat of “physical” danger in our organizations, leaders who allow their feelings of fear, uncertainty, or discomfort to call the shots are at risk of responding with protective armor.  When “armored up,” a leader closes themselves off from options, limits their openness to new ideas, and dulls their curiosity for learning and taking risks…and their teams will follow their lead.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

A high-performance team cannot thrive if the leader of that team hides under their protective armor.  Armored leadership fosters an environment where only “perfection” (not excellence) is acceptable, which creates a culture where the team is afraid to fail and take risks.  Armored leadership is putting scarcity into action (“only so many good things can happen before bad, so armor up”), which squanders the joy out of work.  Armored leadership aims to stay safe, or “numb,” to the effects of discomfort by tuning out or hiding from change.  Teams in this environment stall out, get bored, and coast through work without clear goals or challenges.  As a part of our New Year’s resolutions, let’s commit to ditching our armor.

How can you do it? 

Model healthy failure. Perfectionism is not the same as self-improvement or growth; it is about trying to earn approval. To avoid this type of armor and promote an environment where teams can speak up and accept failure, leaders must model healthy failure.  Talk openly about failures you have had in the past and what you learned from them.  When you have made a mistake, admit it to your team and apologize.  When you fail, be kind to yourself; when members of your team try something and fail, demonstrate grace and acceptance.

Practice gratitude and celebrate progress. Armored leaders hesitate to celebrate milestones or recognize others until they are “safe,” or sure everything will work.  Our teams need a “little somethin’” on occasion, or “food” as I refer to it often.  Examples of leading with gratitude include sending a personal note/text of encouragement or holding a department huddle of thanks when the team made it through a tough situation or incrementally improved a result.  Every person/team is different concerning recognition, so know your audience. 

Define options and set a course. Sometimes leaders are uncertain what to do and they stall out or “numb” for armor protection.  One way to ditch this armor is just to start a list of options.  There are ALWAYS options for next steps, even though none of them might be good.  Engage your team in brainstorming options.  You do not have to have all of the answers.  Try SOMETHING.  Take a step.     

What are strategies you have used with success to model healthy failure, celebrate achievements, or getting out of a stall? Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/leadership.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

2 Responses

Cindy January 5th, 2020

I believe that sometimes these armors can keep a good leader from becoming a great leader. I know getting along is important. But what about patient care and some employees not pulling their load and others have had to pick up the slack for years what is one to do in these instances. When speaking up doesn’t seem to change anything. The leader just seems to want to keep the peace and not deal with any issues.

Kendall January 6th, 2020

If I believe to be a good leader everyone must like me, I will “armor up” and avoid those difficult conversations about poor performance or bad behavior that would result in that person’s not liking me. These fearful leaders fail to reallize that their high-performing team members don’t respect their weakness. So, leaders can have the good people not like them or the bad people not like them. Which option should the leader choose?Also, as adults we get to choose what to believe, and we can change what we believe.


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