(This is part 6 in the “There’s a Me in Team” series. Read part 5 here.)
Last time we continued to look at the Support/Challenge Matrix, making the case that Protectors can do a lot of harm in the name of doing something good. Now here’s the big reveal. This matrix is color-coded for a reason. Green (Liberator) is good. Red (Dominator) is alarmingly bad. Gray (Abdicator) is lifeless. And Yellow (Protector) is subtly bad, disingenuous, and confusing.
When Protecting Actually Harms
If you’re trying to build a high performing team but your default way of leading is to Protect, I’m going to suggest that you’re afraid to bring challenge. You’re yellow.
Consistent Protection helps no one. In some circles we call it “enabling”—meaning that we participate in unhealthy behavior by allowing it to perpetuate. It creates cultures of entitlement, which can lead to resentment. And it creates cultures of mistrust, because actions end up not being consistent with what is verbally conveyed. I heard someone say that “protection is an insidious form of domination”. It’s quiet, and subversive.
Bring the Challenge
How can we improve? The trick for Protectors is to learn to bring challenge. Some suggestions:
- Use this Support/Challenge Matrix. Put it in front of people you lead and say, “It’s not natural for me to bring challenge, but I care about you and our mission enough that I’m going to do it.”
- Use the language and make it normal in your organization to say “support” and “challenge”. That makes it less likely for you to beat around the bush. Learn to say, “I’d like to bring you a challenge.” Or ask, “Can I bring you a challenge?”
- Once you bring the challenge, let it sit there. Don’t qualify it, back-track, or fill up the silence with noise.
- If the challenge relates to something you’ve neglected for a long time, you should apologize to those who are receiving it. “I want to be a Liberator. I apologize because I’ve been protecting you. It’s not been helpful to you, to me, and to our team. Please forgive me.
- Practice. You’ll improve.
There’s a me in team. If your “me” is a Protector, you’re already on your way to improving. If those you lead know that you’re for them, they’ll come to appreciate that you not only bring support, but that you bring challenge as well.