Getting out of your own way

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Exploring the key elements holding leaders back and how to overcome them

Many leaders are elevated to their position, at least in part, thanks to the power of their mind. Once in position it’s that same mind that can limit potential achievement. In fact, you can be your own worst enemy. To make the mind a positive influence, every successful leader needs a level of self-awareness.

My knowledge of psychology and my own experiences have helped me identify five principles successful leaders use to get out of their own way.

1. Re-define goals

Many fresh leaders make the mistake of doing a bit of everything. By attempting to move all the needles they can end up moving none significantly. At the start of the job it’s important to be brutally honest with yourself about the key goals that will make the biggest difference. Once sharply defined, focus on those goals with the tenacity of a pit bull. Remind yourself continually about the destination and make sure every day marks progress in the right direction.

2. Embrace action

Procrastination is a leader’s greatest enemy and yet it stems from the best of intentions: the desire to consider every outcome before taking the next move. But when self-doubt creeps in, consideration turns quickly to procrastination. Nobody wants a leader who jumps in blind, but there comes a time when every opinion has been heard and when all possible options have been laid out and clarified. If necessary put a date in the calendar and give yourself time to plan. But when the time comes, take action.

3. Make time for the big picture

For leaders who have worked up through the ranks, the need to step up and deliver vision is the most stressful part of promotion. Undermined by a lack of confidence, they will often head back to the trenches, getting their hands dirty with minutiae rather than tackling the big picture. While every employee appreciates a boss who leads by example they also need a boss that inspires. If that doesn’t come naturally, you will often find excuses to bury yourself in other areas of the job. Inability to inspire limits your capacity as a leader. Make time for blue-sky thinking; perhaps make it part of the weekly calendar. That discipline also helps a procrastinator put a limit on overthinking.

4. Find your release

The stress involved with leadership is often overlooked. Leadership is seen as a privilege not a chore. Stress comes with the territory and you can’t avoid it, but you can find ways to limit its influence on performance. What is it that drives all work-related thoughts from your mind? Pounding the treadmill? Yoga? Travel? Find that release. Turn off your mobile phone and make time for the things that matter in life. A little perspective works miracles on a pressured mind.

5. Seek professional guidance

Many leaders think asking for professional coaching is a sign of weakness. Great leaders are confident enough to recognise areas in which they need help. The qualities that make a great leader are often very different from the qualities that got you the job. There is no shame in that admission, and the best companies will guide you to the help you need. Leadership comes to few naturally. For the rest it must be learnt.

To be a successful leader you need to learn how to get out of your own way. But you don’t need to do it alone. There are proven tactics you can apply, and people out there fully capable of giving you a shove in the right direction. All you need to do is ask.

Amy Iversen is an experienced executive and performance coach. She is a qualified medical doctor and psychiatrist, and acted as the psychiatrist responsible for the staff and members of the Houses of Parliament

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