10…9…8…7…it’s hard to beat the excitement of a good countdown sequence. One of my favorites (and I make no apologies for being a Star Trek fan) is the classic scene in the movie “The Search for Spock” when Captain Kirk initiates the self-destruct sequence on the Enterprise. It’s a dramatic, Hail Mary type of move, the kind which Kirk was famous for, to save the crew and all humanity from an otherwise certain death at the hands of a ruthless enemy. (Spoiler alert: the plan worked, the ship is sacrificed, and the universe is saved.)
I thought of that scene recently when I was having a conversation with a friend about the persistent behaviors and habits that hold us back in our careers. All of us tend to self-sabotage on some level. The timer on your career auto destruct may never have hit zero, but you’re badly deceiving yourself if you think you’ve never started the countdown at some point.
Self-deception, or lack of self-awareness, is an acute form of self-sabotage. If you don’t have a good read on your strengths and weaknesses I have news for you – your auto destruct countdown sequence has already started. It may be a slow countdown but make no mistake it will reach zero.
This is why I’m such a big fan of executive coaching and the 360 feedback process. Self-awareness is an individual choice, only you can choose to be open to learning more about yourself. No one can make you. But once you make that choice you need a reliable process to collect feedback from others. Coaches or a rigorous, thorough 360 performance review system are the best methods in my experience to get that data.
Obviously hearing negative feedback isn’t easy. Marshall Goldsmith, the legendary executive coach, taught that the only correct response to feedback, either bad or good, is “thank you.” “Feedback is a gift,” Goldsmith said. We say thank you when someone gives us a gift, even if we don’t like it, as a sign of appreciation. Saying thank you to negative feedback doesn’t mean we have to agree with it, but it shows we accept it for what it is. What we choose to do with that gift is up to us.
Unfortunately, honest feedback isn’t always easy to come by. Many performance review systems are inadequately applied, and managers often aren’t trained properly on how to collect and give feedback. This is even more true the higher you climb, many top-level executives don’t put much effort into reviews.
But there’s another lesson from Star Trek about self-destruction. Sometimes you don’t beat the clock and the ship explodes. The same is true in life. We may not address the flaws that sabotage ourselves before the clock hits zero, and then the worst happens.
For many such an outcome is unimaginable. It plays on our worst fears. When the Enterprise exploded it was a dramatic moment for sure. But in the end the crew ends up with the Enterprise 2, a new and improved version of the old ship. The truth is disaster fantasizing about failure is its own form of self-sabotage. There are countless examples of people who have failed miserably, often because of their own mistakes, but have come back stronger. As long as you are physically and mentally able to perform, there is very little that can’t be overcome.
Don’t get me wrong, while you shouldn’t let irrational fears inhibit your career, it’s far better to beam the hell off the bridge before the ship explodes. Either way, the only real sin is the failure to acknowledge our capacity for self-sabotage and ignore the importance of feedback. Not tending to our self-awareness is a surefire way to ensure that the clock hits zero and, unlike Kirk and the crew, you don’t get out in time.