4 Steps to Escape Your Limiting Stories
By Scott Zimmerman, YPO Member
Despite meaningful intentions and reasonable strategies, organizations are increasingly unable to reach their goals. Often, leaders of these organizations are skilled in the tangible parts of their business but are challenged to see and act on the intangible facets, especially how their own feelings and moods can sabotage their best efforts.
In mid-December, I was in a private room with six CEOs who meet regularly to support each other’s success. This group has been together for some time, so their sharing was more transparent than you might find in a less familiar gathering of peers. What transpired, in less than an hour, illustrates how leaders can trade their limiting interpretations and moods for a story filled with new possibilities and more impactful choices.
Step 1: Survey the underperforming areas in your work for places where unproductive moods are operating; places where you are not optimistic things will change. For this group of CEOs, concerns about the lack of leadership in their senior teams was the unmistakable sentiment. Recognizing the areas, and corresponding moods, created by long-standing frustration and disappointment is the first step in developing more productive choices.
Step 2: Get curious about the ways in which your moods and choices perpetuate the issue. A good question to fuel your exploration and personal responsibility is: What is it about me as a leader that allows this to show up? For instance, if you feel uncertain that your team is strong enough to operate independently, ask yourself if you have been in ongoing, transparent conversations about your concerns. Your circumstances are unlikely to change if you are not making a habit of explicitly exploring your concerns with your team.
Here are some of the concerns shared by the CEOs at the roundtable, followed by questions to help loosen their certainty, while cracking the door to new possibilities outside their attention:
- “There’s a lack of leadership on my team.” What standard are you using to judge your team as lacking? Have you explicitly documented your opinion of good and bad leadership, including openly discussing this standard with your team?
- “My leaders accept mediocre.” That’s your opinion. Have you directly observed how they handle missed objectives with their respective teams? What might your team leaders say that your interpretation omits?
- “My team makes bad decisions.” Do they always make bad decisions or do some decisions just not work out? How do you currently use decisions that fail as learning opportunities?
- “I need new people if we are going to scale.” Is there really nothing that can be done to develop your current team’s competence? What specifically is important for them to learn to perform better in the future?
Step 3: Envision new possibilities to positively shift your mood. After resolving to initiate new choices, ask yourself: What empowering interpretations about the situation can I surface? A sampling of the CEO’s ideas included:
- I need to be more explicit about my expectations, and my team needs to be involved in influencing those expectations.
- I can be more curious about factors contributing to our misses. Crisis and mistakes are learning opportunities to grow and deepen our solidarity as a team.
- I can incorporate an after-action review to support team learning when decisions go wrong.
- I need to take greater responsibility for developing my team.
Step 4: Generate actions and new behaviors you are committed to putting in motion to create common clarity and build a stronger team. Here are the commitments that emerged from this group of CEOs:
- I’m going to reflect on my state of mind before and after my team meetings, so I’m not predisposed to limiting interpretations.
- I will look for opportunities to clarify my expectations in places where I’ve been most frustrated.
- I want to be mindful of whether I’m helping things go right along the way or falling back into blaming my team after problems occur.
- I need to get clear on how to develop my team so they can take on more responsibility.
Occasionally, leaders are bound by stories they didn’t even realize they had accepted; disempowering stories that trap them in blame, limiting their ability to see possibilities to change their circumstances. By interrupting the thinking pattern that had entrapped them, these CEOs began to tell themselves a more compelling story; one that inspired them to transcend their frustration and improve their circumstance. They left with a clear appreciation of their responsibility to develop their team and committed to new choices.