Powerful Land Mines

The topic of land mines came up last week Land Mine Sign In The Woods Of Cambodiaas I was coaching a stellar professional grappling with hidden behavioral bombs that have the potential to do a lot of interpersonal and reputational damage. Our session got me thinking about land mines in general, particularly the ones that lie in our individual emotional and behavioral inner fields, unseen but ready to explode when triggered. Merriam-Webster defines a land mine as “a mine usually placed just below the surface of the ground and designed to be exploded usually by the weight of vehicles or troops passing over it (see “Booby Trap”: a hidden bomb that explodes when the object connected to it is touched, moved, etc.)”

We all have land mines waiting to ignite, typically from a remark, action or situation that of its own accord is reasonable but can become a violent spark or catalyzing weight. The majority of us buried our land mines long ago, remnants of the defenses we crafted to keep moving forward during early life. In most cases, these land mines relate to the use and acknowledgement of our own power and legitimacy. When we feel threatened, we move closer to our buried bombs, and when a professional is uncomfortable or unskilled exerting his individual power in masterful, productive ways, he walks close to his personal inner bombs.

I did a Google search of “career land mine” articles, hoping to discover insight into the behaviors and actions that trigger our hidden, career-damaging bombs or traps. What I found were articles outlining what you should do to remain fresh in the workplace or what you should avoid in terms of bosses and work environments. These are external land mines, not the kind I was looking for. No, I was searching for land mines far more dangerous because they are hidden so well.

So what are the more common professional land mines, tied to early scripts we developed about our individual power and legitimacy? I offer a short, simple list to keep in mind when your professional power and legitimacy feel threatened.

  • Land Mine #1 – You’re Not Listening to Me: This one should be familiar to many of us. How often have you voiced a point of view or concern to peers and leaders only to feel as if your words are ignored? Now ask yourself before you explode into flames, are your ideas consistently unacknowledged because they come from you or could there be other reasons behind the tepid response to your input? If the former, it might be worthwhile considering what you are gaining from your current job in terms of growth and impact. If the latter, determine if pushing even harder to be heard will yield the outcome you seek.
  • Land Mine #2 – When Am I Getting My Just Reward?: Similar to Land Mine #1 in terms of being professionally acknowledged, feeling un- or under-rewarded is frustrating and potentially dis-motivating. You work and work, do the right things and still find yourself in the same place. Before this triggers a massive CLM (career-limiting move), contemplate what kind of reward you seek. Money? Promotion? A pat on the back? The first two can be planned for, if you work for an employer who clearly delineates the competencies and achievements needed for financial reward and career advancement. And what about on-the-spot acknowledgment? If it means something, say something… to your manager. Sometimes speaking up for what you would like to receive can set in motion the means to get it.
  • Land Mine #3 – We’re Doing This My Way: This third land mine is the refuge of the exhausted. It’s also a clumsy use of power in the workplace, eerily similar to the “because I told you so” line so many of our parents gave us in our childhoods. Remember how insanely frustrating and unfair it felt when you were a kid? Now, consider how frustrating and unfair it will feel to your peers or team members. Power can be exercised in multiple ways and the most effective use with skilled professionals is to use power to drive collaboration, creativity and jointly accepted solutions.
  • Land Mine #4 – Discussion Closed: Used by both managers who want to shut down conversation and professionals wishing to exert control through secrecy, preventing the free exchange of ideas can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences: poor decisions, lack of transparency, discouraged employees and a culture whose subtext screams “your perspective is optional.” True, there are times when the value of discussing the same topic again and again yields nothing new or actionable. But restricting skilled professionals from contributing to the goals of a team or company, whether by managerial edict or self-censorship, has a chilling, long-term effect.

It’s been said that one can never fully escape the past, that it is always subtly present. Maybe achieving full comfort in the use and acknowledgement of power and legitimacy is unrealistic, especially if past mixed messages remain. But one can certainly recognize their hidden land mines and work to diffuse the potential negative impact. Land mines wait for the times when we are not thinking, not acting from a place of purpose and calm. If removing them entirely is not feasible, at least you can mark the territory and take another route to reach your destination.



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