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Leaders in the role for more than a minute, all know that teaching and doing are entirely different. Yet, in recent Monday Moments we’ve talked about the benefits of teaching employees to fail and learn faster, while we’ve ignored teaching leaders to stop backing themselves into proverbial failure corners. These are the tight spots and conflicting beliefs that drive leaders to berate themselves and their own achievements. And while most leaders learn to accept the failures of other people, talking about what they can learn from their OWN failures, in the face of these three powerful belief systems, is a much different matter. But, what’s the big deal and what do we do about it? First, review and decide if these beliefs are part of your own belief systems driving your own leadership actions or hesitations. If they are, there’s a corner where you fear failure, for one reason or another, and will miss real opportunities, in your near future. Fear not and all is not lost. These beliefs, that may have you back in the corner of your childhood with no clear end to the punishment, are able to be quieted or even completely overcome, but it does takes time. Perhaps one motivating factor for their removal is the realization that before you can be credible in teaching those you have the privilege of leading, such a vulnerable and delicate issue as failing, while at the office and risking embarrassment, you must first be willing to give yourself permission to not have every endeavor you undertake, or effort you make, result in a perfect outcome. May these beliefs be with you less time in the future than they may have been with you on the journey thus far.

1.      Past

It’s likely that the first time you stole something, and got caught, left a lasting impression. As a teen or young kid, many have this memory and I’m told the most painful part of it is when they were required to apologize to the store owner or person. Many of us chose not to become hardened criminals from this mortifying experience. Failures can feel similar. The first time you were passed over for a promotion you really wanted may feel like failure or rejection. Fear of feeling that same pain could be keeping you from ever showing any ambition ever again. That time when you spoke your mind and a bully in the meeting said your opinion was stupid may have prompted you to never speak up again for fear of having your reputation ruined or your insecurity discovered. Part of your past may include a college you didn’t finish, a degree you’re no longer using, or a comment by some idiot that you’ve been carrying around as a reminder of what “everyone” thinks while telling those closest, his opinion isn’t important. If you’ve lived, you’ve lived through a few painful moments. The key is not to keep reliving them long into your future. But, if you’re not leading yourself well in the healing from pain department, you may be holding back, covering up, or talking yourself out of reaching for what you really want because of the events that happened in a past over which you no longer have any influence. Come into the present and give yourself the gift of leaving the past behind you. Besides, measuring your current efforts on an old metric such as past events is like measuring your worth based on whether or not you still fit your clothes from kindergarten. You’ve grown since then.

2.      Parents

What our parents did or said is part of our past, but their messages have a different impact. Right or wrong; good or bad, nurturing or debilitating, your parents gave you a set of beliefs from which you may still lead or operate. The childlike brain is not very rational and makes decisions based on a less than fully developed decision-making center. As such, a five-year-old may interpret a parents’ requirement to get all the answers correct or there will be punishment, to mean that perfection is the only way I continue to stay loved, or am valued. And yes, we know when we grow that these messages may no longer be accurate. However, knowing their real intention in the message and doing differently than the behavior you learned to get around being hurt by it are two entirely different matters. It is often issues like these that surface when coaching executives. Smart, successful leaders back themselves into a corner of failure, self-loathing or simply anger at their own outcomes often based on a five- or six-year old’s interpretation of the rightness of their actions. Your parents’ messages had great power, some positive and some negative in nature, yet at some point as the leader of yourself and of others, you get to decide what you value, what you believe is best, and what you believe is the best dream, behavior, career, or action you should be taking. Believing you can’t or that you’ve failed because of a message given back when you were a kid might lead you to a corner in which you feel like a kid taking a time out moment. Finish your moment and then get back to the business of leading yourself into your own ideal chosen future.

3.      Perfect

Perfection is a corner with which only a small handful of leaders cannot relate. Whether it is the big boss driving the need for the project to be perfect, or a corporate office requiring parts of the process appear perfect, many organizational cultures are hindered by this belief pattern. Good enough is not a good option and it sucks the very creativity or innovation out of most in management. Though if you’re lucky, perhaps it’s just your own internal perfectionist raining down repeated criticism should there be the slightest deviation from utterly zero errors. If the latter is your belief, and that’s your corner from which you can’t try anything new, take any risks, or boldly step out to prove you’re not perfect, that’s much easier, as it’s within your control to adjust. Perfect is not a condition. Perfect is a subjective label used to reveal either one’s hopes or one’s expectations and if either are self-imposed, you fail pretty regularly, at least according to your own belief system about what needs to be happening. Consider making an adjustment. What if the perfect way to approach something was however you did it? What if the perfect motivational speech to give to the team, was the one that came from your heart and you never wrote down? What if the perfect outcome of whatever mistake you just made was the bond you now have with the one person who watched you do it? Perfect is filled with pressure for no reason and leads leaders into a delusion of grandeur that it’s even possible. Let this not be your chosen corner.

The idioms are abundant. We are our own worst critic. People are not perfect. It’s lonely at the top. And yes, it can be with one exception. The voices in your head simply never stop talking. And they never argue with your own data, decisions and assessments. This is how your beliefs back you into a corner. Question what you believe about your past experience, your parents’ messages, and even your own thoughts about perfection not because you’re bored or overanalytical, but because it will make you a better leader. Teaching others how to fail is one of the Top Ten Leadership Tips of 2019 and failing yourself is part of the journey of developing examples you can use to teach growth and resilience to others. Instead, if you avoid failing completely, or beat yourself up for what you think are failures from the viewpoints of these three corners, you’ll also miss incredible opportunities to grow, show humility, and become a leader who continually strives to be better and better. Holding oneself to decades old messages from parents, or the belief that perfect is an option, are beliefs systems that trick many a manager into believing they’re failures. Don’t back yourself into these corners, or live a life leading by someone else’s standards. This is your time. It’s your time to step up, step out, get up front, raise your hand, use your voice, and lead those you have the privilege of leading and serving to even greater heights than you or they imagined.

Ready to Take the Become a Better Leader Challenge?

Each Monday Moment shares a Become a Better Leader Challenge relevant to that week’s topic. This week your challenge is to:

  • Examine how often you beat yourself up for failing to be perfect
  • Determine how much of what you believe is needed is driven by a deeply held desire to still please those who raised, loved, and helped you develop as a young person.
  • Consider reaching out for Professional one on one coaching if the appearance of these belief systems are abundant and you believe they are holding you back from become a better leader. (Truth is, they are exceptionally difficult to work on by yourself. A coach will make a world of difference in your progress.)

Introspection and clearing out of old obstacles, both have great value and something tells me you’re on it and that before next Monday, you’ll make leadership progress!

I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week and of course, stay Contagious!

Monica Wofford, CSP develops leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm designs and delivers leadership training for those managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.

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