Talent is the key element, because it solves all other problems. So observed Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach America and CEO of Teach For All.
Throughout my career as an entrepreneur, I’ve seen this firsthand as I’ve worked side-by-side with talented professionals with excellent leadership skills. And my experience has been varied and extensive: I co-founded webMethods and grew it to a $200 million,1,100-person public company that sold for $540 million; I’ve also been a c-suite exec, public company board member, investor, and mentor.
What does it mean for a leader to have talent? There’s a lot of research on what makes leaders talented, but first, it’s important to define talented. Here, I’m using it to mean someone who is effective in leading herself and others to learn more, become more, and achieve desired outcomes, including quantifiable metrics.
I’ve observed that even highly talented leaders can struggle with limiting beliefs, sometimes without even realizing it. I’ve observed that these beliefs can surface in any number of scenarios of leadership, whether you’re leading a company, board committee, division, or new initiative. These three limiting beliefs that can block your growth, inhibit your team, and have a negative ripple effect on what matters most to you and your stakeholders.
In my work with many leaders, not only have I’ve seen these limiting beliefs in practice, I’ve fallen prey to them myself more often than I wish I had.
At various times in my career, these limiting beliefs created a real stumbling block for myself and others.
The good news is that I’ve learned from these setbacks, and I now actively seek to identify avoid practicing them. You can, too.
Read on and assess if you have succumbed to these beliefs. If you have, apply one of the tips below in a way that works for you and your team:
Belief #1: I already know this.
When I was younger, I thought that being impatient was a virtue. As part of the fast-evolving technology world, the need for speed was a given.
The positive aspect of being impatient meant that I had a bias toward quick decisions and action. A key benefit was being highly productive through intense focus.
But this mindset also had a downside.
My impatience often manifested during a conversation with a colleague, or when reviewing a consultant or team member’s proposal. Because I believed that “I already know this,” I’d skim the surface of the ideas being presented without diving much deeper.
Outwardly, I wasn’t rude or dismissive, but inwardly (and at times, unknowingly) I blocked off further discovery.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that there are real disadvantages to not probing more. It may take a bit longer, but by not asking more questions, a leader can put a tourniquet on the flow of new ideas.
And, by not taking an interest in others’ ideas, a leader may inadvertently discourage team members from taking the initiative to innovate, raise important issues, or generate a spark toward new solutions to old problems.
Try This: The next time you’re listening to someone’s new idea or proposal, and you begin to think, “I already know this” or “Everyone knows this,” pause and decide to ask a question. It can be a simple one beginning with Who, What, When, How, or Why.
Just listen and ask a few more questions. You may learn something new.
Belief #2: I disagree with this.
According to research, as a leader, if you don’t encourage some disagreements, you may be dumbing down your team.
A few years ago, I spoke on a panel about leadership with Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation (Jean was also recently elected Chairman of the National Geographic Society). I was impressed as I listened to her share a strategy she uses with her team at the Case Foundation.
As part of the decision-making process when considering an important issue, she has been known to ask for someone to do research and present the best case for the opposite point of view.
According to Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, this approach is likely to deliver better results:
“To the extent that a company takes self-conscious steps to elicit creativity and honest critique from its own people, it is likely to avoid groupthink and to do far better than it otherwise would – and to make more effective decisions than companies that overvalue harmony and do not focus explicitly on how to produce informed judgments.”
Try This: When you find yourself disagreeing with a colleague’s position or suggestion, ask for more information, and give her an opportunity to make a persuasive argument.
Belief #3: I should have known this.
This limiting belief often emerges from the ashes of defeat, the embarrassment of a setback, or the sting of a missed opportunity. It can be a manifestation of perfectionism if it causes you to turn inward and erode your confidence instead of offering an opportunity to learn and grow, take a new risk, and apply what you’ve gained from the experience.
“I used to pride myself on being a perfectionist. I was always taught to strive to present and be my best self. But over the years, I’ve learned how truly draining it can be to strive for perfection at every turn… Perfectionism is different for everyone, but for me, the struggle is real. It’s a part of who I am, and while there are positive aspects to it, I’ve recognized that it creates major limitations.”
Try This: Cultivate an awareness of your tendencies toward perfectionism. Remember that if you are unforgiving of your own imperfections, you are probably doing the same to members of your team. That can have predictable, negative effects.
According to the MIT Sloan Management Review:
“Drive, reliability and persistence are important qualities for leaders, but they can prove dysfunctional if they are not properly channeled.”
Research and our own personal experiences show that a leader’s limiting and perfectionistic beliefs can have a negative impact on herself and those she wishes to serve and lead. Research has shown that groups, including businesses, do poorly (or at least less well than they should) because leaders are not open to the contributions and creativity of their own staff.
Leaders who give in to limiting beliefs establish policies and practices that can stifle ideas. By identifying these limiting beliefs and using strategies to overcome them, you will strengthen your leadership skills, unleash a more collaborative culture, and experience a surge in confidence.