Three Doubts Leaders Must Guard Against How to Win the Mental Game of Leadership
At the core of any leader’s journey is surviving the assaults that are hurled at us, while remaining in the battle. Sometimes, this is a daily challenge. To continue winning the outside battle, we have to continue winning the battle within. It’s like professionals in sports. When a player in a tennis match, for example, loses their mental game, they almost always lose the match.
To overcome our doubts in leadership, we must have an awareness of how we feel when we are under attack, and we must be equipped with weapons to counteract. Let me share with you how to win the mental battle.
I was recently speaking with a very successful leader who is going through a tough time in his organization—a crisis of sorts. Befuddled and confused, he seemed dejected in spirit. He was not sleeping well at night and looked tired and overwhelmed. While I did my best to help, I too was reminded of this constant onslaught of challenges that leaders face. We must develop mental tools to confront them, survive them, and even overcome them. But, if you’ve been in leadership very long, you know that some problems breach the dams that we’ve erected to protect us.
One such breach that can be crippling is doubt. In fact, there are three doubts in leadership we must never allow to swell.
When things are going badly, it is easy to doubt ourselves. It’s even worse when things have gone badly for a long time. We doubt our ability to solve the problem. We doubt our strength, our patience, our faith, our wisdom, or our skills. We doubt our abilities, our effectiveness, or our thoughts. We wonder if we are still disciplined, innovative, or creative. We can even doubt our capacity to love and forgive.
Doubt which leads to humility, then prompts us to seek help from God and others is good. But doubt that leads to negative self-talk, like the following, are detrimental: I cannot do this. I am not good enough. I should have never gotten into this. I am giving up on this. I am wrong and have been wrong all my life.
I encourage you to change these voices to: I have not figured this out yet. I need to do better in asking for advice from others. I need to continue and improve the way I pursue personal growth as a leader.
But what if we truly are not meant to lead in the capacity we are in? What if we actually don’t have the skillset and gifts to accomplish what’s in our charge? These are core questions. When I see leaders failing repeatedly, it is rarely that they are not operating within their capacity, or even that they are neglecting what is within their care. They are usually failing because of a lack of intention to look for answers outside of themselves. We keep making the same mistakes, seeing things from the same perspective, practicing the same methods, using the same tools, thus experiencing the same results.
I firmly believe you have the capacity to do anything if you are willing to grow and keep growing as a person to see it through. Keep fighting my friend, but channel that fight internally to keep improving.
Doubting Our Dream
Another sad, but frequent, mental sequencing that can occur for leaders is that we begin doubting our dream—doubting what we are called to do, what we love to do, even doubting our passion. We start thinking, Maybe that was a stupid dream. I am just a dreamer; I need to be more real. No one sees this like I do, so I need to change my path.
Many times I have abandoned big and beautiful dreams because I did not have a realistic way to get to that dream. These are the times I have lost the battle. The great leaders of history, industry, invention, and discovery believed in a dream and many times died in pursuit of it. They often arrived at what no one could have imagined possible. No one had scaled Mount Everest—it was not a possible dream—until Edmund Hillary did it.
If you doubt your dream because it was birthed from poor motives or selfish ambitions, I can see how it may be healthy to reconsider it. But if you let go of a dream because of a battle you are going through, or because it seems too difficult and impossible to accomplish, it’s not the right reason to let go of your dream. I challenge you to stick to your biggest dreams, my friend, and dream even bigger!
Doubting Our People
The third doubt that creeps into out mind when we suffer big attacks, and experience crippling defeats, is doubting our people. We start thinking, I just have the wrong people helping me. They don’t know what they are doing. If they had more enthusiasm for their work, we would be in a better place.
When we start hearing these thoughts, I hope we remember that people’s capacities are untapped most of the time. Your people are capable of exceedingly more. The question is: Are you skilled and developed enough as a leader to tap into that potential? Naturally, there are times you do actually have the wrong people with you. I have found that great leaders realize that the solution is not a constant firing and hiring cycle in search of the perfect person. It is learning how to raise the level of those already with us.
Consider Napoleon. While I am not endorsing the wars and acts of aggression he committed, it is noteworthy how one man could marshal ordinary men to do extraordinary things. So many times as leaders, we blame our fate on our people. While on occasion we must change the people around us, more often it is not the people who are the problem, but the clarity of our vision and the level of our leadership capacity.
My challenge to you is to love and believe in your people. Challenge them to grow. Lead them with humility and sacrifice. Just as you have an almost unlimited capacity for growth, they do as well. Help them get there.
Wrestle over and conquer your doubts. So much is riding on that battle. That must be our charge.
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