You know the saying. What got you to your position now may not be what you need going forward. Yet, we see leaders every day hanging onto myths and behaviors from their past — and frankly, it’s affecting their future.
Your ingrained beliefs can affect everything from your personal energy levels to your ability to lead. That’s why it’s so important to understand and challenge the things that could be holding you back.
Let’s look at three of the biggest myths preventing leaders from moving forward and why these myths have such a negative effect, according to brain science. Plus, some quick tips for getting over these hurdles to become the best leader you can be.
The 3 Lies You Need to Stop Telling Yourself (And What Your Brain Has to Say About It)
Let’s start with the three biggest myths holding leaders back. Are you guilty of believing any of these?
Myth #1: I Should Know
It’s unclear when we all started believing that leaders need to know all things at all times, but it’s totally false. Yet, leaders cling to this belief — that they need to know every single detail of every single project and be subject matter experts in every discipline. Talk about exhausting!
Of course, there’s a good reason why we develop this belief. In many cases, leaders are promoted or hired into leadership roles because of their expertise. Often, pieces of their performance reviews are also based on their knowledge.
But, it’s literally physically impossible to know everything. While our brain’s storage space is astronomically large (around 2.5 petabytes), our brains have a limited capacity for learning new information and handling stress. If we try to exceed that capacity, our brains start shutting down helpful neural pathways as a defense mechanism to conserve energy for survival. When this happens, we can’t think creatively or be effective leaders.
Myth #2: I’m Supposed to Solve This
You should absolutely be a part of any solution, but you don’t need to be the entire solution. Too often, leaders believe the lie that they have to be the ones to solve any issues that come their way. As a result, they don’t feel like they should or can ask for help, even though leaders need help, too. And asking for help from others is often a fantastic way to solve a problem.
You might have earned your position because of your ability to solve problems, or maybe somewhere along the way you were rewarded for your problem-solving skills with a raise or praise. When you were rewarded, your brain released little doses of dopamine (the reward chemical).
Remember that our brains rely on our history and past experiences to determine future behavior. As a result, the brain recognizes that we were rewarded for solving problems in the past, so it wants us to repeat that behavior. It wants us to recreate that reward scenario so that it can get more dopamine.
Your desire to keep perpetuating this myth is nothing more than your brain trying to trigger that dopamine hit by recreating a situation it knows has worked in the past.
Myth #3: I Need to Hide My Emotions
While we definitely don’t want to be over-emotional leaders, being completely stoic will work against you. Despite this, there’s a common belief that leaders should always have a game face and never take sides — that they should be completely neutral and never show any emotions at all.
But, there’s a way to be an empathetic and emotionally available leader and remain present without being emotionally volatile. Showing an appropriate amount of emotion can make you more effective by helping your employees feel safe enough to build a trusting relationship with you.
Basically, the more emotionally available you are, the more your employees will trust you. And the more your employees trust you, the more you’re able to connect and engage with them.
3 Tips to Stop Believing the Lies and Start Being a Better Leader Today
So, how do you overcome these hurdles and stop believing these myths? Here are three tips to get you started.
Tip One: Start Small and Start Letting Go
If you’re a leader who feels like you need to know all the details, find ways to start letting go a little bit at a time. For example, start practicing saying, “I don’t know that” in an area or project where it’s okay for you not to know (like a large team project).
Take stock of how often you ask questions to build your own knowledge base and how often people ask you questions outside of what you’re responsible for knowing. Pause and ask yourself, “What if I don’t ask these questions or don’t know the answer? Would the project still be okay?”
Keep challenging your need for unnecessary knowledge and your urge to provide answers for everything. Doing so will help you build new patterns and habits. Try to find places where you don’t need to know everything. It can sound like:
Maybe I don’t need to know everything Sally is doing because I trust her.
Maybe I don’t need to know about this area because that’s really Bob’s expertise.
Maybe I can let myself stop learning in this area because it isn’t filling my cup.
Tip Two: Start Creating a Habit of Asking for Help
Again, start small. What sorts of things can you start asking for help with to teach yourself that asking for help works and that you can still be successful? Build up to things like delegation, which may sound easy, but is really quite challenging.
Delegation requires a lot of letting go and you probably aren’t there yet.
Instead, start small with things like, “Hey Sally, an issue came across my desk, but I would like your thoughts on it.” By starting with smaller asks, we can make our brain feel more comfortable with more challenging things like delegation. The important thing here is to embrace the ask.
Let our brains know that it’s safe to ask for help sometimes and doing so can also produce awesome dopamine reactions as if we were actually doing the task ourselves.
Tip Three: Build Stronger Connections with Sharing
You don’t have to be emotional, but you do need to show emotions. So start asking yourself what you can share that is appropriate and still within your comfort zone. It could be something as small as expressing what you’re excited about on an upcoming project.
If you’re worried, it’s okay to say so, but then offer a solution for those concerns. For instance, “The supply chain issues have me a little worried. But, I believe there are things we can do to help mitigate the risks.”
The most important thing here is to be authentic. You’re not fooling anyone if you’re faking it. Ultimately, your goal is to use softer language in more analytical and dry spaces to increase the level of trust.
Saying things like, “I understand how you’re feeling right now. This is what I’m looking forward to,” or “Wow, these are challenging times, and I understand how you’re feeling. I get stressed too, and this is how I handle it,” is a lot more empathetic than “I hear you, but we need to move forward and here are the next three things we’re going to do.”
Start Myth Busting Today
There are many scientific reasons why we cling to myths that no longer serve us. But, if we want to progress as leaders, it’s important to take the time to challenge our beliefs from time to time to improve and grow.
Remember, start small. Even tiny changes can go a long way towards moving the needle forward. In the end, you’ll be glad you took the time and energy to grow into a better leader.
If you’re curious and want to learn more about how these myths and others prevent you from reaching your leadership potential, our coaching services can help.