Over the years of executive coaching with my wife Judith Sherven, PhD we’ve been struck by the many ways people have learned to play down their authority, their accomplishments, their ambitions.
And these mechanisms are so unconscious that when we point them out, the individuals are often a bit shocked that they’ve been camouflaging who they really are.
So, as I detail a few examples, see if you identify with any of these behaviors:
Typically we’ve seen men and women use this technique to “throw away” comments that might otherwise be powerful, impactful, self-respectful.
For example, one man created a successful start-up that was acquired by the current company where we were coaching him. When he shared that he had been the CEO of his company, he giggled while telling us that it had been a bit of a come-down taking his current position as Director—as if it was a bit of a joke rather than a serious heart-break.
Another person, a woman, who had achieved considerable success within the company, but laughed every time she referenced any element of her influence. When we pointed it out, she said, “Well, I don’t want anyone thinking I’m big-headed.”
QUESTION – Did you learn to laugh or giggle to play yourself down? If you’re not sure, ask people you trust to let you know.
*** Refraining from expressing strong opinions in meetings
Often people tell us they don’t want to “steal” the spotlight from other leaders, or they worry that if they disagree with someone publicly they’ll be seen as “brutish” or “competitive.”
A woman of considerable accomplishment told us that she made it a point to never interrupt anyone in a meeting, and that when she did speak she always couched her statements as questions or potential ideas. That way she felt safe from being seen as “pushy.”
One man shared with us that he knew he had more experience and wisdom than several horizontal partners that he was working with, but feared that they would turn against him if he put forth his ideas in a strong manner. So he always deferred to them, yet doubted that the company was being represented properly.
*** Making sure to always be “nice”
Reluctant to stir up things, some people are overly “nice” and thereby downplay their authority and influence.
A Senior Manager was referred to us in preparation for being promoted to Director with the specific instruction that we needed to help her hold her team members accountable. She readily agreed that she had trouble doing this, as she didn’t want to be seen as “harsh” or “judgmental.”
A leader who had been recently transferred to a new team confessed to us that he had inherited quite a “mess” but wasn’t sure how to proceed because he wanted to be liked and feared that if he wasn’t friendly and nice to everyone he’d lose the possibility of a loyal team.
Those are just a few examples where people had learned to play themselves down. Now the question to you—how have you played yourself down?
In late February, I’ll be releasing the first two books in my autobiographical fiction Leaving Home Trilogy. Book one –Worship of Hollow Gods – Book two An Ambition to Belong. The series deals with the struggles of discovering and leaving behind what kept me bound to and in unconscious loyalty within the primitive and punishing beliefs of my immigrant Eastern European Polish peasant family in 1950s Detroit.
To celebrate the launch with every purchase of BOOK ONE –Worship of Hollow Gods I am giving away free a copy of BOOK TWO — An Ambition to Belong. To receive notification be sure to sign up at goo.gl/QXnZKM