What are the barriers to your effectiveness as a leader?

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I firmly believe that gremlins are listening to us. In our phones and in our computers. Whether it’s Siri, Alexa, or any other name you may have given to your devices, they are listening. 

Call me paranoid (or perhaps just overly conscious), but whenever I am in a coaching session or facilitating a workshop (whether online or face-to-face), I make a habit of switching my phone to flight mode. Putting it on silent isn’t good enough. 

For some reason last week, I was slightly distracted just before facilitating a group coaching circle, and it must have slipped my mind. I completely forgot to activate flight mode, so my phone was sitting right there on my desk for the entire session – open for business. Inviting the gremlins in to take part along with the four regular participants. 

Whilst the format of a small group coaching circle would typically involve a reasonably free-flowing conversation about a range of topics, on that particular morning we spent most of the session diving deeply into what the four relatively new leaders considered to be the most common barriers to their effectiveness. 

I’ll come back to where the conversation took us shortly, but at the end of the session when I (out of habit) went to turn off flight mode, I was angry at myself for having been so careless, but then thought nothing of it and got on with the rest of my day. However later that evening, when scrolling through Facebook on my phone, I immediately noticed two advertisements from a leading book retailer promoting the two books I had specifically referred to during the coaching session a few hours earlier. 

Unless the gremlins were sharing my recommendations with either Facebook or the book retailer, how else would I have been targeted to buy Mindset by Carol Dweck and / or Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman? Sure, these books are extremely informative, but I already have them both on my bookshelf. So, thanks but no thanks, Facebook. 

That was way more than a coincidence. 

So, what exactly were we talking about for the AI gremlins to have been listening in so carefully to then suggest (promote) specific books I might like to read? 

As I mentioned above, we were doing a deep dive into barriers to leadership effectiveness. 

One of the new leaders brought up imposter syndrome; another shared a fear of delegation; but all four raised two barriers in particular – falling back into the habit of a fixed mindset; and making impulsive decisions without thinking through potential repercussions. 

When coaching or facilitating on the theme of ‘fixed vs growth’ mindset, it’s impossible not to refer to Carol Dweck’s work, which was exactly why I had mentioned her book Mindset (which the Gremlins then immediately shared with Facebook!). 

I explained to the four participants that they were not alone and that it’s common for a new leader to struggle moving away from their old mindset which could potentially even include complacency. 

As you step up from being an employee to a first-time leader, one of the most important shifts is from potentially having a fixed mindset to embracing a growth mindset.  

Sure, as a team member you may have been able to get away with being afraid of change or difficult work situations, avoiding challenges or dreading feedback (perhaps even viewing it as a personal attack) – all traits of a fixed mindset). However, as a new leader, you will ideally be ambitious and more interested in developing yourself (and others) than in worrying about what others might think of you. 

You will realise that it’s OK to be vulnerable in front of your team members. You will recognise failure as an opportunity to learn. You will embrace new challenges and welcome feedback from those around you. Above all, you will consciously focus on your own personal and professional development.  

I explained to the group that having a growth mindset is the belief that intelligence is not fixed and can be developed. In fact, the research shows that leaders with a fixed mindset may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential, while those with a growth mindset will typically reach higher levels of achievement, giving them a greater sense of free will. 

As a leader, every now and then it’s worth stepping back and asking yourself where you display a growth mindset, and in what aspects of your role might you (perhaps without even realising it) be demonstrating a fixed mindset. 

When it came to discussing the tendency for a new leader to make impulsive decisions often without thinking through potential repercussions, I once again reiterated that they were not alone in observing this particular barrier to effectiveness.  

There is, after all, a difference between thinking through a decision as opposed to just thinking about a decision. 

It was at this point in the group coaching session that I talked about how the brain makes decisions based on two ‘systems’ – the first being fast, impulsive and emotional; and the second being slower, more logical and more deliberate. 

Of course, I explained that these concepts were not mine, but those of Daniel Kahneman, renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, outlined in his bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow (which clearly the Gremlins found intriguing enough to pass straight on to Facebook, too!). 

While responding to the challenges thrown at any new leader during the course of a day, many will tend to gravitate towards System 1 to save energy, time and effort which can often lead to making mistakes and biased decisions. After all, we often give weight to what feels familiar or relatable to us and this can often cause us to have limited perspectives and distort reality. 

On the other hand, by consciously pausing and considering the longer-term effects of their actions, leaders using System 2 will take in diverse viewpoints, perhaps even being vulnerable enough to ask for other people’s opinions and make more considered decisions. 

With the amount of change and uncertainty out there, and increasing levels of anxiety within teams, new leaders need to approach every day with a growth mindset and educating their brain to make decisions more in line with System 2. 

My final message to this particular group of new leaders was that whenever you can, show that you are committed to your own up-skilling and self-improvement and to the development of your individual team members, too. Set regular goals for yourself and your people even in the most challenging times.  

Above all, prove to those around you (both above and below you in the organisation) that you are more than comfortable guiding your team through uncharted territory. 

Whilst the participants left the session with a few key takeaways that we will be re-visiting in a few weeks, my own key takeaway was that from now on, I might even make a point of completely switching off my phone when coaching or facilitating workshops – just to be on the safe side. After all, who knows … maybe even flight mode can still let the gremlins in. 

Remember, hellomonday can provide support to every leader, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders understand the importance of having a growth mindset and being open to making slower and more deliberate decisions. 

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