How to tackle your self-limiting beliefs about your leadership

What story do you tell yourself about the kind of leader you are? We all have self-assessments of our individual leadership and our ability to lead a group of people as a team leader. This is an ever-evolving story that defines how we show up each day, in every interaction.

What is the impact of this narrative being inaccurate? Many people have a story about their perceived weaknesses that creates false leadership limitations. These perceptions prevent them from being the leader they aspire to be. Which of your self-limiting beliefs are not true? 

Over the years many leaders have told me self-generated stories such as:

  • “I am not strategic.”
  • “I am not inspiring.”
  • “I am a tough, direct leader who doesn’t want to be seen as soft or weak.”
  • “I don’t really know how to help people grow.”

When we create mental roadblocks for ourselves we inadvertently cut our leadership development journey short. In each case I was able to help these leaders move past these myths through coaching. I hope this post inspires you to look past your self-doubt, challenge your stories and realize your potential as a leader. 

What tennis taught me about leadership development

Let’s start with a quick story about tennis. In my teenage years I played competitive junior tennis. I was a decent player at the provincial level. While my serve and forehand were solid, I’ve carried one self-limiting story for my entire life: “I can’t hit a backhand”. 

For those unfamiliar with tennis, the backhand side is weaker for many players. While my backhand was definitely weaker than my forehand, was it actually true that I couldn’t hit a backhand? Of course not, though this belief served as a limitation.  This self-generated story required me to always play two opponents – the one across the net and the one in my mind.

Fast forward 30 years. This year, I started playing tennis again. I found my old racquets and dusted off that old story: “I can’t hit a backhand.” When I started playing, this line of thinking was still true. Sometimes I would hit the ball in the court and sometimes it would fly over the fence. That all changed when I read a book called the Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Galway. He tackled this type of self-limiting story head on. The athletic movement of a tennis shot is complex enough. When you add self-doubt and a negative talk-track to your game, you are making it nearly impossible.

Does this sound familiar? Leadership, like tennis, requires a strong mental game. If you sit in meetings thinking you are not strategic, you may hold back on valuable comments or insights that could move the team forward. If you tell yourself that you are not inspiring, you’ll likely lack the confidence and passion needed to create positive energy in others. Being strategic or inspiring is not just an innate trait. These are things that you can learn and hone over time, just like a tennis backhand.

Photo credit: Ryan Males

Let's make common sense, common practice

The key elements of being an effective, strategic and inspiring leader lie in common sense things many leaders are not focused on:

What I learned from tennis can serve as a simple, efficient roadmap for tackling our self-limiting beliefs and accelerating your leadership development journey. 

Learn the technique

The first step in improving my backhand was getting instruction, both from a coach and also leveraging online learning. In my case, videos from Essential Tennis helped me learn different ways to apply the core techniques. Video is also a great way to learn about correct leadership techniques, including how to give effective feedback or hold an effective 1-on-1 meeting. The key to move from learning to understanding is to put these new skills into practice, gaining the experience of using them in different situations and with a variety of people. Putting in the repetitions helps you feel more comfortable.

Use video to hone the technique

Once you understand the technique, you can truly hone it by using video to see if the picture in your mind is accurate. In tennis, I used video analysis during practice to get an objective perspective of my backhand. It was surprising. Many times the backhand stroke I saw in my mind looked nothing like what I was actually doing.

There is emerging research that shows the power of this same approach for leadership development. When leaders video themselves conducting 1:1 meetings or performance reviews, watching it later is a very revealing exercise. This can be done on your own or with an executive coach. You’ll notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise notice and it accelerates your mastery of the skill. If you or your colleagues are uncomfortable being recorded, perhaps start with a video of a role play first.

Collect data to assess progress

In tennis, I am able to get performance feedback in real-time by actually using my new backhand in matches. I have hit high quality shots that destroyed the myth and told me: ‘I can hit a backhand’. For leaders, we believe that data is critical to assess your development progress. SupportingLines offers two options to track how you are doing:

I hope this post inspires you to challenge your own self-limiting beliefs. The key thing now is to overcome the anxiety of putting the new technique into play – just like a new leadership technique. Re-think the perceptions that are preventing you from being the leader you aspire to be. You can hit a backhand!

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff is the Founder & CEO of SupportingLines. He is also a certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, seasoned C-suite business leader and yoga instructor.

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