HeadTrash: Clearing the Junk in Your Head That’s Holding You Back

Being in a leadership position requires more agility than ever before. The economy is changing, and with it, CEOs, business owners, and executive teams must constantly adapt to stay ahead. But, a crucial part of adaptability and growth is self-awareness. How can you recognize potential roadblocks and weaknesses in your own behavior, and, more importantly, how can you correct them before they negatively impact your business, career, and the people around you?

At CANDOR, we refer to these behavioral patterns and roadblocks as HeadTrash – the thoughts and emotional patterns that hinder the ability to respond to business issues productively and professionally. Everyone has some type of HeadTrash, but by identifying your own HeadTrash, you can take action to correct the patterns that are holding you back from effectively leading your team and running your business.

How Does HeadTrash Impact My Business?

Behind every successful business is a leader who makes smart decisions. Emotions and passions challenge our ability to make good choices and distract us from strategic decision-making.

Separating emotion from decision-making is not about becoming robotic or having radical candor. Making decisions is one of the hardest things you will do as a leader, and removing your emotions from the process allows you to make the objective decision that is in the best interest of your business and your team.


  • Driven by emotion
  • Impulsive and reactive
  • Results are not achieving the actual goal
  • Denial and excuse-making to avoid a decision


  • Not driven by emotion
  • Well thought out; not impulsive
  • Focus is on the outcome, not how it feels

What are the Different Types of HeadTrash?

The common patterns of HeadTrash can be broken down into seven categories, ranging from outward emotions, such as anger or control, to inward emotions, such as insecurity and paranoia. Emotions are natural, and everyone will experience these seven types from time to time, but when an emotion crosses the line and impacts your ability to make smart decisions, it turns into HeadTrash.

While HeadTrash can feel overwhelmingly negative, there is good news – through self-awareness and practice, many thoughts and behavioral patterns associated with each type of HeadTrash can be transformed into positive actions and traits.

The basic survival instinct and impulse that prompted our cave-dwelling ancestors to flee. What could be more sensible than feeling fear when pondering a new hire, a new investment, or a big presentation? The stakes are high.

Extreme fear is a brick wall. It can render us incapable of taking action because we’re too worried about downsides. Nothing gets done. Fear of making decisions and having difficult conversations are the two most common manifestations of this HeadTrash in the workplace.

What it
looks like:

  • Immobility in decision making

  • Hiding behind “workarounds” regarding poor performance

  • Resistant to trying new initiatives because of the potential adverse effects of change


  • People losing respect and trust

  • Settling for the status quo

  • Upward delegation


  • Build up to the big decisions; break it down into small segments and address those small segments first

  • Commit to a “safe” decision unconditionally – no backing out!

  • Celebrate small wins

Truthfully, arrogance requires no formal definition because people who work with an arrogant leader have plenty of their own: Egomaniac, Know-It-All, Jerk. Often a mask for insecurity or defensiveness, there’s absolutely nothing admirable about arrogance. It has no redeeming qualities.

Arrogant leaders produce frustrated, compliant, and self-doubting employees.

What it
looks like:

  • Talking more than listening

  • Their opinion tends to prevail

  • Never admitting they are wrong


  • Demotivated and frustrated employees

  • Compliance rather than engagement

  • Turning ‘A’ players into ‘B’ players


  • Begin to see yourself as a teacher and mentor

  • Invite input from others

  • Give credit where credit is due

Paranoid leaders genuinely believe that others are “out to get them” and live in a constant state of victimhood. They are obsessed with what others think of them and spend a lot of time managing their image. Examples of paranoia could be something as simple as an email that suspicious leaders perceive as being filled with veiled threats or a regular business meeting that suspicious leaders feel is a precursor to getting fired.

This perennial state of mistrust stands in the way of getting things done and is usually draining for the leader who scrambles to put their finger on every perceived leak. It also saps the people around them, who are running around with the hoses, attempting to extinguish the leader’s fictional fires.

What it
looks like:

  • Doing everything to avoid the perceived danger others present

  • Doing nothing, so no one has any ammunition to use against you


  • Hostile environment and lack of trust among team members

  • High maintenance “all about me” attitude and high drama

  • Hiring weak employees to avoid being upstaged


  • Don’t assume – ask for clarity

  • Accept that it is most likely not all about you

  • Keep a log of your triggers and patterns regarding your hotspots

  • Focus relationships on trust-building

This belief is a fallacy because one leader can’t do it all as the business grows. It’s impractical and unsustainable, and there’s no way to scale your business for growth.

Control triggers other types of HeadTrash (insecurity, paranoia, fear) in a leader’s colleagues. Employees may start to doubt themselves with limited opportunities to express their talents. “Why doesn’t my boss think I can handle this?” or “ There must be something I’m not doing right!” are all things that can start to creep into the minds of employees working under a controlling leader.

Passive aggressiveness and micro-management are two very common forms of the HeadTrash of Control.

What it
looks like:

  • Controls conversation, interrupts,

  • Overly persuasive, repetitive requests

  • Information hoarding, not revealing emotions

  • Perfectionistic; not accepting quality below his/her standards


  • One-way communication from boss to employee

  • Stifling new thinking/creativity

  • Forcing people into compliance


  • Create development plans for each of your direct reports

  • Delegate, but don’t abdicate

  • Perfection is the enemy of done: learn to recognize when it’s “good enough”

Leaders need to express their observations to their employees. When the tone of your displeasure becomes antagonism or rage, anger becomes dysfunctional. A leader whose subordinates view them as hostile does the company more harm than good. An angry boss spreads fear and mistrust throughout the company.

The effect is damaging and lingering, causing the staff to stop giving their best or sharing their honest opinions. When one’s livelihood is at stake, it seems safer to start giving in to avoid “The Wrath from Above.”

What it
looks like:

  • Demonstrated hostility: wanting everyone to be aware when you are mad

  • Silent disappointment and passive-aggressive behavior

  • People are nervous around you


  • Decreased employee retention

  • Climate of fear in the office

  • Keeping people guessing


  • Breathe and sort out your thoughts

  • Consider your possible overreactions

For many, guilt is an evolutionary impulse, a vestige from our relationships with our parents and other authority figures. Guilt is a sentimental trap, a snare that hooks us into doing the wrong thing even when we think we’re acting out of kindness or benevolence. Guilt is a reflex, a feeling that arises from learned behavior and often encourages us to act against our best interests or the company’s best interests.

Leaders can be both guilt-ridden and guilt-inflicting in their behaviors toward others.

What it
looks like:

  • Guilt-wielding – exploits weaknesses of others, brings up the past, and manipulates those around them

  • Guilt-ridden – works around or avoids difficult decisions, accepts compromise to avoid conflict


  • Manipulation others into action

  • Playing musical chairs with people

  • Band-Aid solutions that don’t solve performance problems

  • Being content with simple adherence


  • Build a culture of accountability, not blame

  • Request and act based on business issues, not personal ones

  • Move on from misplaced guilt: drop the baggage and move forward with your life and career

Most crippling of all the HeadTrash, insecurity is a constant and all-encompassing feeling of self-doubt. Whenever insecure leaders look in the mirror, literally or figuratively, they only see what is lacking. Whenever they need to make a difficult decision, the first things they hear are the voices of doubt. Insecure leaders have a story about how inept they are, and they work hard to make the rest of us believe their perceived truth, no matter the cost. They typically prevent others from growing, grab undeserved credit, engage in defensive behaviors, and tear others down to build themselves up.

What it
looks like:

  • Defensiveness

  • Making the “nice guy” decision

  • Repeated requests for updates, facts, and data due to a lack of confidence


  • Avoiding risks

  • Doing everything by consensus

  • Preventing the people around you from growing


  • Refrain from comparing yourself to others

  • Chart your progress toward a goal: “What am I doing right, and how can I improve?”

  • Be generous in praising others

Maybe one or two of these sound familiar, or perhaps you have experienced several categories of HeadTrash in yourself and those around you. All seven can play a part in your life, but it’s essential to identify and correct the primary HeadTrash that keeps you from moving forward.

Ready to discover the type of HeadTrash that's holding you back?

Take our HeadTrash Index and learn proactive steps and strategies you can use to get the junk out of your head and get back to making smart business decisions.