First Leadership Self-defense Lesson: Your Biggest Opponent is You
Yesterday, at my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class, there was a brand-new student. We were partnered up for a drill. The look on his face was familiar to me. Maybe I had a similar look for my first class: Confusion, apprehension, uncertainty. He didn’t know what to do. I knew how it felt. I went easy.
But he left part of the way through class. I don’t know why. Can only speculate. But, for many people, the experience is too overwhelming. This is understandable. He wasn’t being hurt — but he was probably very uncomfortable. If he’s anything like me — most of that discomfort wasn’t physical.
Physical discomfort takes a distant back seat to feeling out of control. To recognize that you don’t know what you are doing. To being demonstrably reduced to “beginner” status. But, that’s how you learn. You keep showing up. The early lessons are ones of mental toughness, humility, controlling fear, managing anger, and so on.
You are really fighting yourself more than your opponent. Those lessons are far more important than understanding sweeps or submissions. Knowledge will come. But you need to be willing to act. Even without knowledge. Knowledge without action only gives a false sense of confidence. Like buying a book on self-defense. You might memorize it cover to cover. But none of that knowledge will help when you need it.
I hope he comes back. But he may never get to know the almost addictive joy that many others have found from facing down discomfort on a regular basis.
Many Leaders Mistake Knowledge for Action
Or worse — mistake the emotional satisfaction of knowing something for experiencing results. I’m susceptible to this. I like to learn. The more I know about something, the more comfortable I feel. As a result, I can always come up with a reason to take another course, read another book, watch another video.
But results come from imperfect actions. Relentlessly executed. The leaders I coach rarely struggle due to a lack of knowledge. They are far more likely to struggle because they aren’t acting. And they aren’t acting because of personal or interpersonal issues. They need to act. So, they need to face down these issues.
What Prevents Action?
Fear: Leaders feel afraid. What if they fail? What if they expose weakness? What if others look down on them? It’s huge. This is a big, big deal. Instead of confronting the fears, it’s often easier to avoid them.
Intentionally tackle your fears. Start with small ones. Face them. You’ll learn that there are far more grizzlies chasing us in our heads than there are in the woods.
Further reading: Fear: A Leader’s Greatest Enemy
Overwhelm: Leaders are maxed out. They know what the loudest noise is. But not the most important noise. Or the noise they should be hearing but can’t. They are running hard. But not as productively as they could.
Practice growth through pruning. Rigorously and narrowly identify your priorities. Protect what meaningfully moves you towards them. Cut out what won’t.
Further reading: 7 Tips to Escape the Crush of Overwhelming Responsibility
Self-Imposed Limits: Leaders build their own glass ceilings. They may want to rise higher or achieve more. But they tell themselves that for reasons X, Y or Z — “I can’t do that.” In nearly all cases, this is self-imposed. You have told yourself “no” far more than anyone else ever will.
Reshape your self-image as someone who lives at the next level. Whatever that is for you. Write out what that looks like. Review this regularly. Spend as much time with people at that level as you can. When you can’t, listen to or read what they say. Marinate yourself in the relationships, images, and messages that are from the next level.
Further reading: What If You Are The Source Of Your Frustration?
Clarity: Lack of clarity creates more problems and breeds more conflict than perhaps anything else. All of the training in the world about personality differences or tough conversations will never make up for muddy, ambiguous, conflicted, or absent communication.
Religiously create clarity about values, vision, expectations, roles, responsibilities, procedures, or processes. Hunt out ambiguity, confusion, or lack of information. Addressing this single issue will produce more breakthroughs for you and your organization than you might even be able to imagine.
Further reading: Remarkable Leaders Forge Clarity. 4 Areas They Focus On
Accountability: Accountability is one of the simplest and most effective tools that should be in every leader’s and manager’s toolbelt. But often isn’t. Perhaps surprising to most leaders — employees frequently say they wish their leaders held the team to account for following through, for performance, and behavior.
Accountability requires clarity. It’s hard to track the progress of fuzzy expectations. Accountability works best when it is structured and planned for — not ad hoc. Accountability works great when it is combined with encouragement, acknowledgment, and celebration.
Further reading: How To Create a Culture of Accountability
Personalization: Challenges become roadblocks when they are personalized. When the attention shifts from a substantive external problem or even a specific behavior to the very personal character and identity of someone else.
As an example: Someone who is regularly late. One response focuses on the substantive. The other focuses on the personal. “Jim, you were 10 minutes late to the meeting today. When you do this, we have to wait to start. It wastes the team’s time as well as creating frustration. Please be on time for the next meeting.” Or “Jim, you are late again. You are always late for everything. I can’t figure out if you are an airhead or just disrespectful. Get your act together.”
Both comments are direct. Both address the same issue. One is more likely to produce a positive result.
Further reading: One Powerful Leadership Lesson From President Trump
Imperfect Progress Relentlessly Executed
To address any of the six issues above, very little knowledge is needed. The challenge is acting. Putting the effort into facing fears, discovering your priorities, or addressing your self-imposed glass ceilings. Putting the effort into creating clarity, building and maintaining accountability practices, de-escalating conflict by focusing on substantive issues instead of personalizing them.
For many leaders, all of the above is challenging. Not that far different from being a newbie in a BJJ class facing off against a 250lb giant. However, giants fall. But the only way to learn to take them down is to get out there and try.
What action have you been putting off — that you’ll start today?
Take good care,
Originally published at https://www.christianmuntean.com on March 9, 2021.