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I am a firm believer that realizing one’s full potential as a leader is much more about identifying and giving up what’s in the way than it is about acquiring new skills or tools. Yet, most seekers and providers of leadership development focus a great deal of their attention on transferring knowledge and learning/teaching specific skills of leadership, when it is the person's fundamental beliefs and mindset that determine how they relate to themselves and their ability to lead.
I’m certainly not suggesting that becoming skillful at time management, delegation, or conflict resolution and the like are not necessary. There is certainly merit to acquiring and practicing these and other skills. However, if the pursuit of skills is done without proper attention to what is holding us back from realizing the maximum benefit they could yield is like driving with one foot on the brake pedal and wondering why you are not picking up speed as you keep pushing the gas.
As I look back on my personal journey of leadership development with the benefit of hindsight, I can clearly see the lessons that I learned, either by attending a course or receiving coaching and feedback, that made a profound difference for me. By far, most of these lessons came in the form of transformative training, rather than informative training. The distinction being that the latter is intended to arm you with some tools or skills you didn’t have before, and the former, to get something out of your way. Going back to the metaphor I used earlier, informative training teaches you how to push the gas pedal, while transformative training causes you to see that your foot is resting on the brake pedal so you can move it and pick up speed.
So what could be in the way? Usually, what gets in the way stems from, or shows up as, self-deprecating beliefs and/or self-preserving behaviors that hinder our natural self-expression as extraordinary leaders. It is the stuff that causes a perfectly enthusiastic three-year-old who wants be and do everything to settle for mere survival by the time he/she is in his/her 30’s. The same thing happens to wide-eyed new hires who start a career with complete enthusiasm only to end up joining the ranks of multitudes of people who simply drag themselves in to work for a paycheck. Getting the enthusiasm and zest for life back does not depend on getting something. It depends on giving something up.
Obviously, the specific thing(s) one has to give up is a very personal matter and everyone has to look for, identify, and be intentional about giving up whatever is in their way. The list below is intended to suggest a few places for you to look and more importantly, to compel you to ask, “What is in the way?” and have the courage to give it up next time you find yourself stuck or disempowered as a leader.
Try giving up some of these tendencies and watch it transform your experience of leadership:
- Needing to be right – The source of this need is pride and our incessant desire to look good, or at least not look bad. Giving it up reduces the pressure of having to prove ourselves right all the time and leaves us open to making the necessary course corrections along the way.
- Pretending you have all the answers — This is often exacerbated when we assume a leadership position and believe that we are less of a leader if we are not an expert in everything. It takes courage to be vulnerable and admit that we need our team members to bring their strengths and make up for our weaknesses.
- Defending yourself every time you get feedback – Defensiveness blocks the flow of much needed feedback and perspective that every leader needs. Giving up the notion that constructive feedback is a personal attack on you leaves you open to receiving and using feedback.
- Living a “someday” life – Some of us go through life with the purpose of building a great resume, or accumulating skills or physical things that we would use someday. Giving this notion up and showing up to life, fully present, creates the kind of relatedness that every leader must practice.
- Feeling guilty when you say no to a priority that you aren’t fully committed to – We often string a bunch of people along and cause them to have false expectations as we make half-baked commitments to the causes that they ask us to commit to. This is because we don’t want to be straight and only say yes to those priorities that we are truly committed to. This tendency creates an integrity issue, especially for leaders; and without integrity, nothing works.
- Blaming your boss for not being perfect – Persistent complaints about the boss and passive aggressive behavior patterns that continue to strain our relationship with our leaders do nothing but sabotage our success and rob us of the joys of a fulfilling career. What if we gave up our complaints and purposed to make up for the boss’s shortcomings instead?
- Making what others say or do mean something about you – This is a deeply rooted and established part of our DNA that has a pervasive effect on how we operate when we are in auto-pilot mode. It takes intentionality to constantly give up the interpretation that everything that happens around us has to do with us. Giving up this notion liberates us to operate in a proactive manner toward accomplishing the cause we are committed to, rather than being in a perpetual cycle of defending ourselves and making others wrong for their words and deeds.
- Holding on to “unforgiveness” – Letting go of grudges we have been carrying with us for years is absolutely essential to effective leadership. Otherwise, the constraints of the past will continue to show up in our future and we will continue to act surprised when we run into more of the same.
- Justifying your drama as if it were proof of your passion – The amount of passion and drama we experience is directly proportional to how much we care about a topic. Therefore we have constructed this illusion that our disempowering thoughts and actions, otherwise known as drama, are evidence that we care, and therefore are a good thing. What if we gave up this notion and kept the passion and ditched the drama?
- Perpetually blaming yourself for past mistakes and worrying about the future – Learning from the past and planning for the future are great, but our obsession with our past and the anticipated future often robs us of the joy of being present and experiencing life to the fullest in every moment.
The Bottom Line:
Effective leadership is not so much about picking up tools and skills as it is about having to courage and determination to identify one's attitudes and behaviors that are in the way of them showing up as the extraordinary leader that they can be. While the special brand of what is in the way is unique to each person, this post is intended to provoke thought by suggesting a few places to look for what one might consider giving up in order to fully show up as an effective leader.
Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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