Ignite! Newsletter—October 2012 Article
Three Ways Leaders Hold Themselves Back
“Not everyone is signed up for self-development,” says Madeleine Blanchard, a master certified coach and co-founder of Coaching Services at The Ken Blanchard Companies. It is a small subset of the population that responds well to feedback and has the ability to hear feedback effectively. It is an even smaller group that has the willingness and skill set that allows them to figure out what to do with feedback once they’ve learned something about themselves. “If you look at the people around you, you'll know that it's true,” states Blanchard.
So as a leader, you have two choices. Stay comfortable and do what you’ve always done, or do a little self-examination, which can be uncomfortable, in order to keep growing.
“That’s why self-awareness is so important for a leader,” explains Blanchard. “No one thinks they are bad at listening, receiving feedback, or any other common mistake. Unless you've gotten some irrefutable 360-degree feedback where your peers, boss, or direct reports all tell you straight up that you are a bad listener, no one thinks they have a problem. And even when people have identified what they think the problem is, they are usually wrong.”
In one real-life example, a coach shadowed an executive for a day to help with communication issues. At the end of the day, the executive asked, “Now that you’ve watched me interact with my people, what have you seen?” “Well,” the coach replied, “You might start with tearing your eyes away from the computer screen when people come into your office to talk.”
In another instance, Blanchard shares how she worked with a client who was up for a senior level position in his company. “He was being considered for a CFO position and I got the sense from the screening committee that he just needed a little polish, though no one could tell me exactly what it was.” As Blanchard explains, “I talked with him on the phone and he couldn't have been nicer. He was a warm, bright, funny, and very successful comptroller of a multi-billion dollar multinational conglomerate.
“So we talked on the phone and I can't discern anything wrong with this client until I meet him in person. That's when I finally figure out the problem. He's unintentionally intimidating. He is a six-foot-four former All-American college football player. So he’s bigger, smarter, and faster than most people in the room, and he does get a little impatient when you are not as quick as he is. As a result, when he comes in and sits down the whole room freezes up.
“So after following him around and watching him interact with other people at the company for a day, I sat down to share some observations. I told him, ‘There's one thing that you can start doing that will immediately start shifting everything.’ ‘Tell me what it is—what can I do?’ he asked.”
I knew he was thinking that it's going to be a big, hard thing.
It wasn't. “Smile.” I told him.
So he began reminding himself to smile before walking into a room. Instead of frowning in deep thought when listening to folks, he practiced keeping a neutral look and smiling when he heard something smart.
You wouldn't think it would make such a difference but it did. He started smiling and, although he worked on some other management basics, the smiling is the thing that made the biggest difference in the impact he had on others. In fact, it made all the difference in the world and he got the promotion.
Getting at underlying causes
In addition to day-to-day behavioral issues, Blanchard also believes that leaders can benefit from examining some of the mindsets that might be operating just below the surface of their consciousness that they may not be aware of. Many executives struggle with old limiting thought habits about themselves and their environment that simply fade away when they are examined.
As Blanchard explains, “Some people are dogged by a nagging sense that everything they do is just a little substandard and that they might be judged and found wanting. Even when there is evidence to the contrary, these people will often make up the story in their head that people are just being nice to them and not telling them the real truth.”
The root of this behavior is a lack of self-confidence. And while a coach is not a therapist, Blanchard believes that coaches can help by having conversations to identify and get things out into the open.
“I recently worked with a client who told me, ‘I am a woman in a man's world.’ I said, ‘OK, let's talk about that. How are men behaving that is different from the way you are behaving?’ After a conversation in which the client shared a few examples, I asked, ‘So what keeps you from doing those things?’ She replied, ‘Absolutely nothing. It just didn't occur to me.’
“So now it is occurring to you. Can you visualize yourself doing those things?’ She said, ‘Absolutely!’” People have stories in their heads about the way that they have created their reality and all they need is a conversation to shift their reality.
Sometimes all they need to do is get on the phone with a completely objective person who has their best interest at heart. Someone who is going to say, “Hey, what's up with that? What's going on?”
“If you listen as a coach people will talk. And they learn about themselves by talking. It is like cleaning out your closet and getting rid of all the old stuff that doesn’t fit anymore or that you never really liked in the first place.”
Another limiting belief that Blanchard often runs in to is a tendency to think small. Blanchard shares another story about a client who was very comfortable in her own playing field but wasn’t seeing her own potential—or taking steps toward it—the way that others in the organization were seeing her. As a result, she wasn’t building the relationships or networks within the organization that would make her more effective.
“She was new to the company, only one year in, and I was suggesting that she get to know her peers better. She asked me, ‘Why would I do that?’ So I turned the question back to her, and asked her what some of the possible benefits might be.
“She answered, ‘Well, I could get to know this person—he’s been here 14 years and he knows all kinds of people. And this guy over here used to have my job and I could probably learn a lot from him.’
“And by the end of the conversation, she recognized how building relationships could expand her horizons and her playing field and how that would benefit her. Looking back, she realized that she had been playing too small and that she was limiting herself. And the funny thing was that she had gotten that feedback earlier and she really didn't know what it meant until she started to think about it.”
Finally, Blanchard often works with clients on expanding their time orientations. The way a person perceives time is a function of how they see their whole environment and the impact they can make on it. As she explains, each of us has a preferred and habitual time orientation—past, present, or future.
People who have a past orientation spend their time looking back evaluating where they’ve been and why. Others are forward-looking and use the present as a springboard for thinking about what they could be doing in the future. And then there are those people who are very good at being in the present and focusing on what is right in front of them.
As Blanchard explains, “Looking backward is extremely useful for certain people in certain positions. Managing the present has its advantages also. Unless planning ahead is part of your job though, living for the present and the short term is a luxury reserved for individual contributors. But if you want to be a leader you have to have the flexibility to learn, function and plan in all three areas. You need to learn from the past, live in the present, and plan for the future.
“Managing the long and short range is like exercising a muscle. Most of us have a place where we are really comfortable. Leaders need to develop their capabilities in all three areas.”
Be yourself—only better!
People can and do change. And it almost never requires as big a shift as you might think. Blanchard likes to use the metaphor of a ship on a long sea voyage. If you make even a two-degree change in your direction you completely change your destination.
Where are you headed? What are some of behaviors that might be holding you back as a leader? Self-awareness and self-regulation create a consistency that builds trust.
As Blanchard encourages, “I've seen leaders make a small shift in their self-awareness and their behavior and it’s made all the difference. And as Jim Collins writes about so eloquently, when you get your leadership right, you build something that lasts. Something that isn't just dependent on your fragile ego or your brilliance. That’s the essence of leadership.”
Interested in learning more about identifying and changing limiting leadership behaviors?
Then join us for a special Leadership Livecast on October 10.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
8:00–10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, 11:00–1:30 p.m. Eastern Time
3:00–5:30 p.m. GMT, 4:00–6:30 p.m. UK
Even the best leaders have been guilty of breaking trust, reacting to feedback emotionally, or being self-centered at one time or another.
In this complimentary 2½ hour Leadership Livecast hosted by Gina Crosby, with special guests Ken Blanchard and Scott Blanchard, over 40 different business thought leaders will share their perspectives about what to do about un-leaderlike moments. You’ll hear some of the personal challenges and some of the common mistakes that leaders make. Most importantly, you’ll also discover what you can learn from those mistakes and how to change your behavior to reach your full potential as a leader in your organization including:
- How to recognize “un-leaderlike moments”
- The myth of results versus people
- Dealing with ego and emotions
- The importance of trust and listening skills
Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to identify, avoid, and learn from your own limiting behaviors. Self awareness is the key to taking your first steps toward increasing your leadership effectiveness and subsequent career growth.