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You're not superhuman so stop trying to be

One of the biggest stressors for a modern day leader is often the pressure they put on themselves.

I don’t know at what point being a leader meant needing to be the finished article, the superhuman. Even the Wizard of Oz didn’t have it all figured out. Although leaders normally have a lot on their plates and often have to make tough decisions, it doesn’t automatically lead to them knowing what the answers are. Very often it can mean going on a journey to figure them out.

A lot of leaders increase their anxiety levels through not feeling they can ask for help, not giving themselves enough time and space to think, and not feeling safe to admit they are still learning. Being a leader is about how you show up and the positive impact you have on the people around you, it’s not about having all the answers and always making the right moves. Very often you get promoted to a leadership position because you’ve been good at coming up with the answers, that’s how you’ve gained your credibility. The problem with keeping that same mindset when you become a leader, is that not only do you stress yourself out, you don’t foster an environment where others feel they can contribute. 

Having the expectation that you should be superhuman or the naivety to think that you already are, are both counterproductive when it comes to leadership. Not only because putting yourself under that much stress can seriously impact your wellbeing, but because it sets a standard for your people to work to that is unrealistic – and that can affect their wellbeing too.

Striving for perfection is stressful not least because your inner critic will give you a bashing every time you fall short of your own expectations.

The power of a growth mindset

When leaders know they are still developing and they still have a lot to learn, it sets a different tone for the team and it also creates a mindset shift which leads to more productive and positive behaviour. Through creating a safe environment where people feel they have space to grow and develop and where they know they don’t always have to be right or to constantly impress, it leads to a more human and real way of working. This psychological safety means people can more openly express themselves, will be more willing to experience new things, can think more freely, and will commit more of themselves. It also means less back covering and unnecessary competition.

Carol Dweck said that leaders with a growth mindset “believe their talents and those of others can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) and they tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts)”.

The fact is, when you have a growth mindset, you are less bothered about looking smart and proving that you always make the best decisions - that’s impossible. When you know that you are fallible and that life is an ongoing journey of learning, it shows humility which leaders need to build trust with others. It also helps you to:

·  Become more tolerant

·  Allow people to make mistakes

·  Set realistic expectations

·  Feel more comfortable in your own skin

·  Create an environment where people want to help each other

·  Open your mind to different ways of doing things

·  Embrace the talents of others

·  Allow people to help you

·  Praise others for the work they do

What are you scared of?

Very often, we become fixed minded as we’re trying to protect ourselves, or our status. This can be seen as arrogance, over confidence or closed mindedness which employees don't like in leaders - obviously. You must be confident as a leader but the supposed arrogance that comes with a knowing you’re right or believing you’ve got the best answers can lead to a breakdown in trust – at worst it can lead to apathy and disengagement. The ironic thing is that leaders often feel like frauds and so what comes across as confidence or arrogance is in fact a cover up act - we don’t want to be found out. It’s our insecurities driving our behaviour.

Facing the facts

  1. Showing humility is a sign of wisdom and strength, not weakness.
  2. Leaders don’t need all the answers, they need to create an environment where the answers can be found
  3. Leaders who support continuous learning are more productive and have more productive teams
  4. When we are stressed, our threat response is more likely to be triggered and create closed minded and unhelpful thinking

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Do you see yourself as superhuman? If so, why?
  2. Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? If not, why not?
  3. How often to you ask your team what the answer should be?
  4. How often do you ask your team if you can help them?
  5. When challenged, how comfortable do you feel to say “I don’t know the answer?”
  6. Do you ever ask for help? If not, why not?
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