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Why Facing Our Leadership Dysfunction Can Feel Like an Intense Massage

We all do it.

We all have dysfunctional leadership behaviors we keep going back to.

We know they’re dysfunctional. We know they don’t serve us, or help us lead with ease. We recognize that they have a negative impact on how we show up as leaders, and on the people we work with.

So why do we keep falling into those behaviors?

Because those behaviors served us once. They’re comfortable and known.

And what’s comfortable and known is an easy pattern to fall back into, even when we know it leads to dysfunction junction.

I recently started seeing a new massage therapist, someone with deep experience in structural alignment issues. After a lifetime of mild scoliosis and 10 years of wearing 3-inch heels each workday (a practice I stopped in 2019), my structural alignment is a mess that is causing more issues with age.

After my first appointment with this new MT, I felt fantastic! Balanced, grounded, almost light on my feet.

Then I woke up at midnight, with every muscle in my body yelling at me. The thought that clearly went through my head: “My body is fighting the work.”

If you’ve had any bodywork or PT, you’ve likely heard the practitioner say that one time doesn’t fix long-term issues–that even if it’s painful, our bodies are comfortable with the adaptations they’ve made. Those dysfunctional patterns have served to protect us in some way.

When we try to shift back to functional alignment, our bodies fight it. They might reset for a short time, but they go back to their dysfunctional patterns.

My spine, and the muscles supporting it, have decades of adapted positions and behaviors to keep me upright. It’s causing long-term issues, but it’s what my body knows.

That’s why it doesn’t take just one appointment to change how the body shows up–it takes regular assessment, adjustment, and practice.

Just like our dysfunctional leadership behaviors.

We all have dysfunctional behaviors.

  • Maybe it’s not speaking up in a meeting, even if we have something to say, because we’ve learned to go along to get along.
  • Or monopolizing a discussion, because it’s important to us that we’re seen as an expert.
  • Perhaps it’s struggling to delegate because we feel anxious if we’re not in control.
  • Or perhaps it’s taking on too much because we can’t so no and risk letting others down.

If we’ve done the work of exploring our leadership, we’re probably well aware of the leadership behaviors that are deeply engrained, that we know are dysfunctional, but we just can’t quit them.

That’s because they’re known. Comfortable. Just like with our physical bodies, those dysfunctional patterns have served us.

In Leadership Circle terminology, those are the Reactive Tendencies, the behaviors that helped to form our identity, provided validation, and protected our ego.

As we step into leadership, those behaviors can continue to serve us. Left unchecked, however, they can become dysfunctional.

The work is to identify the patterns and try to change them.

Here’s the rub: the brain will fight back.

The brain will want to default to those known, comfortable behaviors. To maintain control, please everyone, distance yourself emotionally … whatever that dysfunctional behavior is, it’s what the brain will default to.

So what do you do?

You keep doing the work.

  • You find experts to support you, coaches and mentors.
  • You ask for feedback (the Leadership Circle Profile is a great option!), and receive it deeply.
  • You make a plan for how to integrate the behaviors you want to try.
  • You try something different, a different behavior. You celebrate small successes. You give yourself grace for failures. You try again.

And slowly, incrementally, your leadership behaviors change.

I often say that leadership is a journey, we don’t suddenly arrive. The journey of changing our dysfunctional behaviors is constant.

The beauty in it is that with every adjustment, every practice, we feel a shift. And with every shift, we feel a bit more grounded. Balanced. Lighter. At ease in our leadership.

I’m not going to lie: it is hard and can be painful. But it’s worth it.

As for me, I’m seeing the massage therapist for the second time this week. This time I have a plan for how to better integrate the work after the session (lots of water, sauna).

It’s going to take time to undo decades of dysfunction. I’m up for the challenge.

Are you?

Hey there, I’m Cynthia. I’m a leadership team whispererexecutive coach, and speaker. I guide leadership teams in high-growth companies to achieve rapid growth in a healthy, sustainable way. I coach senior leaders to discover the path to lead with ease.

Like this post? Want to see more? Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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