seven silent saboteurs business man in suit with arms crossed

It’s typical “standard operating procedure” to reflect on our wins and losses, and then apply the lessons learned to our next challenge.

But what about some of our deeply rooted behaviors that we’re unaware of? You know, those blind spots that end up limiting us?

First it’s important to know that we all have them. Even the most accomplished leaders in our industry have areas to improve upon. I like to think of these blind spots as “silent saboteurs.”

It’s precisely because we don’t see our self-limiting behaviors on our own that we can all benefit from honest feedback. But what if, for some reason, you don’t have access to that feedback? What if you don’t have a mentor, partner or friend who can be radically honest with you?

Not to worry. We’ve got you covered.

Silent Saboteurs

Following are seven silent saboteurs that  may be affecting your personal or professional success. (And as you read through them, be honest and ask yourself, “is this me?”)

1.  Overactive Humility

  • Impact: Humility is admirable. But being too humble can come across as insincere. And it can also reveal a lack of self-confidence or a desire to please or submit. If you tend to deflect well-deserved praise and give it to others, just know that you may be undermining your own successes.
  • Advice: Find some balance. Push yourself to articulate your achievements and shine a light on those who helped you. Own your leadership style and be confident so that others will want to follow you.


2.  Incessant Talking

  • Impact: Talking too much on any topic can suggest one of two things. You’re either insecure or you aren’t succinct and concise enough in your thoughts and communication. Not good. If you interface with high-level executives, it’s essential to be confident. And get to the point.
  • Advice: When speaking with someone (especially in an interview), read social cues and body language. Is she shifting in her seat? Is he checking his watch? Has the interviewer stopped writing? Has eye contacted waned? Be honest with yourself. If you think you’ve started rambling, you can say, “I apologize; I realize I’ve gone on for too long on this topic.” And don’t forget to truly listen. Chances are, the less you say, the more you’ll learn about others—and yourself.

3. Excessive Negativity

  • Impact: Let’s face it, being viewed as a “Negative Nick” or “Negative Nellie” isn’t good for anyone’s career. One of the more harmful self-limiters is when we are overly critical of ourselves or of others. It’s also one of the traits that we often miss in our own behavior. On a team, it can have the effect of lowering morale and hampering productivity. It can also cause an uncomfortable dynamic on your team. 
  • Advice: Have an open conversation with your team and tell them that positivity is an active goal. Then commit yourself to practicing that positivity. Tell them, “I’m not exempt—if anyone thinks I’m being critical or too pessimistic, I want you to let me know.” Sometimes you can decide on a “code word” to use in meetings. But beware: if you ask the team to point out this behavior, please don’t get defensive. Being receptive to their feedback shows your professionalism and maturity. 


4. Imposter Syndrome

  • Impact: If the voice in your head is telling you that you’re not in the right position or suitable for a task, it’s just fear. You’re not a fraud, and you’re not “putting one over” on anyone. But thinking that you’re an imposter and not good enough is absolutely self-limiting and self-destructive.
  • Advice: Research shows that a whopping 70 percent of us suffer from imposter syndrome. This means we’re far from being alone, but it’s a mindset that we can (and should) overcome. Self-esteem—finding and maintaining it—is tricky, but there are ways to achieve it. Create an informal “value proposition” for yourself. That is, list all the ways in which you add value to your company, team or project. And then build on it to generate more “self-value.” Also, don’t let the pursuit of perfection overtake what may be a sufficient performance. Remember that, oftentimes, “good” is “plenty good enough.” 


5.  Stress Management 

  • Impact: Stress is one of the most severe self-limiters. Whether you internalize it and hide it well or if you wear stress on your sleeve, the result is the same. Your “angst” will impact your health, your performance and productivity. And it can negatively affect that of others who work with or for you.
  • Advice: Here’s what you can do about it. Prioritize and organize your day. If you feel like you’re doing a million things at once, it’s time to focus on the most important tasks. At the beginning of each day, make a list of everything that needs to get done. Mark down the ones to finish by the end of the day and push off the others. Also, don’t forget to laugh. When things get tough at work, find some humor in the things that are stressing you out. And one more: don’t forget to exercise and eat well. Improving your lifestyle and diet can make a world of difference battling stress in the workplace.


6.  Self-Improvement Deficit

  • Impact: As a manager or director in your organization, you need to lead by example. Why ask others to improve themselves if you’re not doing so yourself? A lack of self-development—whether it be professional or personal—is all too obvious. Especially for those on your team whom you are expecting to self-improve.
  • Advice: Create a self-improvement plan for yourself and stick to it. Then tell others about it! Read, listen to podcasts, take classes, attend conferences, set up training. And spread the word around: if you’ve found something you think will help improve your team, let them know about it.


7.  Insecure Body Language

  • Impact: Body language may be the most silent saboteur of them all. The way we carry ourselves has a lot to do with how we “show up,” and whether we’re perceived as approachable and/or trustworthy. People can “read” our discomfort by observing our body language and get a sense if we’re feeling out of sorts or struggling to control a situation. Examples of insecure body language include poor posture, sitting with legs and/or arms crossed, avoiding eye contact, failure to smile and a loose handshake, among many others.
  • Advice: Building trust is dependent upon nonverbal and verbal alignment, so be sure that your body language and speech are “married.” One of the great distractors is focusing on other people’s opinions of ourselves, and we cannot be our authentic ourselves if we’re self-consciously preoccupied with making a positive impression. As the author Amy Cuddy wisely tells us in her book, “Presence,” “Focus less on the impression you’re making on others, and more on the impression you’re making on yourself.”


It’s on YOU!

It pays to remember that whether we know it or not, we’re all leaders. Every person reading this blog has some aspect of his or her life in which they’re leading. As Ernest Henley so eloquently penned, “We are the captains of our own ships sailing the sea of life…”

And I’d add to this by saying that we’re agents of our own career, responsible for our professional persona. That’s why it’s important to be aware of and “limit our silent saboteurs” to grow and prosper in our life and work.

  • Thank you for sharing the self help advice. Your message is good for all as we look for that light at the end of the tunnel.

    Take care, Dan

  • Recommend reading ‘MicroMessaging’ by Stephen Young. The preface says it all: “Be careful of your thoughts, they become words. Be careful of your words, they become actions. Be careful of your actions, they become habits. Be careful of your habits, they become character. Be careful of your character, it becomes your destiny…”

  • Thank you, Eric! I’ve heard that quote but have not read ‘Micromessaging’ – I really appreciate the suggestion!

  • Jen – This summary is FANTASTIC! In fact, this is one of those terrific pieces that I tape to the mirror. Every time I look in that mirror, I have 7 great points to contemplate. Thanks for sharing these “pearls” with us!

    • Thank you, Jim. This means a lot coming from you! I love the idea of taping inspiration to the mirror. All the best, Jen

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