In Part 1 of this post (below), we explored how our values, beliefs, and personal stories drive our behavior through the crowded bar story. After waiting a long time for service, the leader took action and secured a pitcher of beer for her thirsty team. Let’s pick it up from there…
Finally enjoying their frothy cold beverages together, the follower, manager, and leader begin to talk about their day. The follower starts the conversation by explaining his routine challenges to the group. Apparently, the sales team keeps over-promising on what his manufacturing team can deliver on and the timid follower feels he can’t speak up about it. The intense workload and impossible demands are taking their toll on him and his peers. He then describes his boss as a “slave driver” with no backbone to stand up to those “prima donna sales snobs!” Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to the follower, the gentlemen to his left happens to be the head manager of sales and he is quickly becoming very defensive about the follower’s tirade. The now irate manager begins to loudly express his strong denouncement of everything the follower has just shared. He then explains his intricate system for accurate sales forecasting, his impeccable record of always making his numbers, and how it’s just too bad if the “whiny” manufacturing folks can’t keep up! At this point, the leader intervenes. First, she explains to the manager that she hears what he is saying and offers that the sales team is under a lot of pressure to deliver on the quarterly expectations. She then coaches the now very embarrassed follower into not backing down from this challenge by the manager. She expresses her interest in learning more about the follower’s challenges and begins to facilitate the much needed discussion. After a few uncomfortable minutes, the group begins to engage with each other and truly hear one another’s needs and concerns. By the end of the night they are toasting each other and commit to making several improvements together. The leader then picks up the tab and Ubers a cab for their ride home!
This brings us to the next four beliefs that can limit your potential as a leader. As you read through them, I offer that you 1) try to identify how these stories might be either limiting or working towards the leadership potential of our fictional characters in the bar scenario and 2) check-in with your own beliefs and how they are shaping the possibilities available to you. Again…what is it that you personally believe?
1. I must be liked to be a good leader – This makes perfect sense. No one wants to work with someone that they don’t like. Besides, leadership is about influence and how could I begin to influence people if they don’t like me? If I work to be liked first, then people will go out of their way to help me and make me successful in my leadership responsibilities. Not necessarily. While being liked as a leader certainly helps, it should never be a primary motivator for your behavior. Leaders often have to make tough decisions and sometimes those decisions will make them unpopular. Whether it be delivering news about much needed sacrifices ahead or having difficult accountability conversations, leaders must be comfortable with communicating the hard truth versus what will make people happy. Instead of working to be liked, work to be respected. Not in the sense that followers respect your authority, but rather respected for your competence, compassion, character, commitment, and consistency. The liking part will then take care of itself.
2. A leader ensures a harmonious team – Huh? How could this not be true? We all know that harmony is a good thing. I mean what kind of leader lets team members get into it with one another, which always has such a chilling effect on the rest of the group. A leader’s job is to ensure that various personalities on the team find a way to get along. Not really! It’s very easy to fall into this trap as it is socially engrained in us from an early age. Groups naturally strive for harmony and the moment that conflict emerges, we just want it to go away. If a leader provides us with protection and re-establishes order in these moments, they are exercising authority not leadership! Good leaders instead recognize that conflict is a necessary part of getting the group’s needs met. More importantly, leaders understand the ramifications of repressing conflict and promoting a false harmony — resentment and crippling dysfunction. Leaders instead create a trustful space for diverse perspectives to speak their mind and enable healthy debate to occur.
3. Leaders don’t fail – Of course they don’t fail! Failures fall by the wayside and it’s those that succeed who are promoted to positions of greater responsibility and opportunity. Leadership and failure go together like oil and water. There is simply no mixing the two or you will quickly be labeled a poor leader. Wrong! Leaders are never one to play it safe. Comfortable is a dirty word to them and thus they take risks and push our boundaries of what is possible. Yet, leaders, like everyone else, rarely get everything right the first time. They make mistakes, and it’s how they handle their mistakes that separates themselves from the rest of us. Leaders never lets their mistakes define them. They don’t avoid their failures, they own them and value them. Failures instead become powerful ways to expedite their learning, strengthen their resilience, and inspire an even greater will to succeed.
4. I’m not good enough to lead – Seriously, what were they thinking putting me in charge? I have been faking it the whole way. Sure, I had some successes but anyone could have produced the same results. It’s only a matter of time before they figure me out. Absolutely, Positively, NO! This may seem to be ridiculously obvious as a limiting belief, however it is by far the #1 most pervasive belief holding many leaders back. Even many “successful” leaders share this story and, ironically, it can be the primary driver of their success. When this belief serves them, they work extra hard to overcome their insecurity and embrace continuous learning. Unfortunately, this story also can cause a leader to overcompensate for their ego, feeding almost every other belief discussed in this post! If this is resonating with you, know this, you are not alone and you don’t need anything else. You already have everything it takes to be an extraordinary leader. The real challenge is will you internally validate yourself enough to be the leader that you are destined to become. When you flip the switch inside and see yourself as that leader – you are.
Remember that our beliefs, values, and personal stories are not fixed, we can change them. It’s not a simple undertaking, yet it’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor if they are limiting our leadership capacity. The world needs your leadership, choose to reach your full potential.
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 Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Boston: Harvard Business Press.
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