Leadership In Denial

For all the Antony and Cleopatra’s, this story celebrates the end of our trip down DeNial so you may find your true inner pharaoh and avoid being bitten for ineffective leadership. Cleopatra’s pound cake is filled with a chocolate r-asp-berry filling. 

Vanilla Pound Cake

Be it known that we, the greatest, are misthought ~ Cleopatra

Perhaps in our case however, we are not exactly the greatest yet and could use a bit of leadership coaching to elevate our game. An inconvenient truth is that we often enable sub-par performance by managing ineffectively. While everyone would wholeheartedly agree in theory, many leaders are in denial regarding their own management short-comings and assign blame to a variety of scenarios and subjects. Believing I was protecting my team, I was once overly meddlesome impeding progress out of fear of failure. Of course, this only hastened the outcome that I was so diligently attempting to avoid. If you are struggling with leading your team, then you may be overdue for the valuable lesson of getting out of the way.

If you are using your precious time attempting to save people that would rather not have your assistance, thank you, then it may be time to face a management lesson of your own. Give yourself a gut check and evaluate the degree to which these behaviors resonate.

Step 1 : Assess level of denial

1. You believe that you are responsible for your team’s behavior and take everything personally. It may be time to give your almighty self-image a break. Leaders are responsible for assembling a qualified team, keeping them focused and ultimately delivering on the plan. You don’t have control over anyone, thank goodness!
2. You are perpetually hopeful that a manager will improve his performance although there is zero real evidence it’s happening. Hope is not a strategy.
3. You find yourself coaching your team on the same things over and over and over again. Perhaps you are a fountain of unsolicited advice? Take a break from the lecture and life-coaching circuit until you figure it out, little Oprah.
4. You meddle and attempt to cover-up performance challenges with higher-ups because you don’t want to look bad.
5. You are working crazy hours helping and saving Managers that were just about to do it wrong without your heroic oversight, right? Or perhaps the team is always in crisis and you are perpetually saving the day? Exactly how many jobs are you attempting to juggle?

Under all the dramatic self-sacrificing stories, the truth is that you are likely terrified your team will fail. The thought of an authentic conversation about performance challenges makes you want to throw up. In fact, you would prefer to eat your shoe and work 80 hours a week than face the facts about your current management skills, or lack thereof. Of course you might try to argue that you do give feedback but barking and getting mad isn’t effective so let’s check the no box here.

Leaders struggle with allowing the real consequences of manager’s actions to be felt, which is a disservice to everyone.

Ironically, leaders working double time to make up for their team’s perceived shortcomings are often resented the most. There are no brownie points because it’s not helping. Although the team can’t articulate why they are uncomfortable, they are probably resenting the hell out of you. Enjoying not being accountable on the one hand but also begrudging it because they ultimately want to be autonomous and effective. It creates a confusing cocktail of emotions for everyone involved. If any of this sounds familiar, then it’s time to get out of your own way.

Step 2 : Face it like a pharaoh

First, a clear-eyed assessment of your situation is in order. No more denial. Agree that no matter how tough the truth may be that you are going to face it and fix it. Please enlist support from a senior leader, coach, mentor or guru as this will significantly expedite the process and provide the required encouragement and perspective for this journey.

Getting out of your own way:

  1. Set or reset expectations. Do your managers have goals, assignments and action plans? Not a theory but a printed piece of paper with coherent strategy. Has the required training been completed? If you haven’t done this part thoroughly, then start by completing these essentials first.
  2. You don’t do rescue missions anymore. No more distractions that take you away from your real responsibilities, which only creates another crisis and so on and so on. You can’t do your manager’s job and if he won’t try to earnestly help himself then he needs to face the consequences of not doing the necessary work to be successful. Get out of the way and let his actions follow to logical conclusion.
  3.  Talk is cheap, so when you don’t see effort, address it promptly. Does the manager execute the agreed upon action plans? It can be challenging to learn to step back and stay back while members of your team figure out how to work for their success. Expect to be tested as everyone will be dubious of the new you. Again, talk is cheap.
  4. Propose ideas to solve issues, but don’t jump into the middle of the situation. Does the manager listen to suggestions? If she has determined the problem at hand is insurmountable, then let it be. When your energy shifts and you don’t attempt to save her, she may crawl out of the pit of despair on her own but don’t count on it.
  5.  It is important to stress the need to put judgments aside about what you wish for your managers and instead meet them exactly where they are. How are your judgements getting in the way? This is where an outside perspective will be invaluable. Remember that everyone has a right to walk his or her own path and it doesn’t have to make sense to you. Moving forward, your focus will be on supporting your team to bring out the best in each of your managers; however, you are now stepping out of the center and allowing your team to shine.

You’ll be amazed at how much your relationships shift when you get out of the way and let your team grow into their potential. It will be an adjustment for everyone so be sure to allow time for a new level of trust and respect to grow. No more covering your asp antics, you are a real leader now.


cake slice


Recipe for Cleopatra’s Pound Cake is adapted from Ruby Cake in Sarabeth’s Bakery Cookbook.

3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled & cut into cubes

2 1/4 cups superfine sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups full-fat sour cream

1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon raspberry jam

1/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

Fleur de Sel Salt

Butter + flour a 10″ bundt or tube pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt

Beat sugar into butter for approximately 5 minutes and then add vanilla

Alternate flour and sour cream until combined.

Fill pastry bag with half of the batter and pipe into the bottom of the tube pan. Create a wall of batter around the edge as well as the center of the tube. Add chocolate and raspberry to the well and sprinkle with a pinch of Fleur de Sel salt. Pipe the rest of the batter on top.

Bake for 60 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then invert cake onto wire rack to finish cooling.

Disclaimer: The story and recipe above should not be considered advice as the readers and users of Chocolate Cake Mondays are not clients and therefore CCM is not liable for reader’s reliance on the information herein.