How you see yourself
You’re probably already familiar with the following concepts but the question isn’t whether you’ve heard them before, but whether you realize their implications and act accordingly.
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” – Henry Ford
“It's not what you are that holds you back, it's what you think you are not.” – Denis Waitley
Whatever you believe to be true becomes true for you.
Don’t let the past determine your future.
“I am” are the two most powerful words.
Platitudes, right? Think again. They hold the key to becoming a more empowered leader. Here is why – the way we see ourselves determines what decisions we make, what actions we take, and what results we create.
When we don’t believe we can succeed, we don’t even try. When we believe we have a flaw or deficiency, we let it limit us. If we have failed at something in the past, we feel defeated and don’t give it another chance. Sigh… so much pain and wasted potential…
Behavior does not create identity
Self-reflection is tremendously powerful when it comes to self-improvement, but you must be able to differentiate what you do/did from who you are. We all develop habits and patterns over time, but they do not define us, and they are not set in stone. For example, it doesn’t make sense to say “I am always late” as a character description. Being chronically late is not something people are born with; it’s a pattern that can be changed.
Take a moment to write a few bullet points on what you believe is limiting you, from the perspective of what you think you are and what you think you’re not. Here are some examples I hear often from higher ed. leaders.
I am not good at showing my accomplishments and being more visible on campus.
I am not good at delegating.
I am not good at setting healthy boundaries.
I am a people pleaser.
I am not good at confronting people when they do something wrong.
I am not confident enough.
I am not good at politics.
Now look at your list. What do you see? Most or maybe even all of the bullets you wrote to describe your identity are observations of past and/or current behavior.
You can choose to become good at something (e.g. advocacy, delegation, accountability, conflict resolution, etc. instead of telling yourself you are not competent in certain areas and that will remain true forever. Unless you wrote “I am too tall to be a world-class jockey” or “I am too short to be a world-class basketball player” chances are, what you wrote can be changed.
You can change your behavior and self-identity anytime
People often say “I am not good at…” It may be a fair assessment at that moment, but it is not a limitation for the future. For example, sometimes clients tell me “I am not good at politics therefore, I don’t have enough influence within the leadership team on my campus.” But the reason for it is simply a lack of practice!
Skills are developed over time. The more we do something, the better we get at it. But when learning is intimidating or uncomfortable, we either create an excuse (e.g. “I don’t want to become good at politics because it’s against my values”) or we simply create a false sense of disempowerment, as if we had some legitimate but bizarre disability (e.g. “I can’t be good at politics because I am too direct”). No, no, no. No more excuses!!!
If you don’t like something about your current or past behavior, instead of making up a story in your mind about why you can’t do better, change it! Don’t be a victim, especially not a victim of yourself!
How to reclaim your personal power
Change your perspective on who you are and what you’re capable of doing, and your entire life will transform. You see, the mind always looks for congruence. Once you tell it what you can do, it will get busy finding solutions rather than making excuses.
Follow these steps as if your life depended on it, because it does!
1. Acknowledge what has been holding you back.
2. Differentiate what is important to you and deserves your attention and commitment versus little things you can accept as they are without judgment.
3. Choose a small number (preferably 3 or fewer) of habits/patterns you want to change or skills you want to develop.
4. For each, answer the following questions:
What do you want to transform?
How do you define success?
What skills or competencies do you need to develop?
How will you gain those skills?
What thoughts (excuses) will you no longer indulge in?
Here is an example. Imagine that you don’t like dealing with employees who don’t meet your expectations. Your past behavior was to avoid speaking to them about the problem, and just do the work yourself. Your false self-limitation was “I am not good at dealing with employees who under-perform.” Now you realize you don’t have a disability, only a lack of practice. So, you decide to stop hiding from the uncomfortable parts of your supervisory role and do what needs to be done.
What do you want to transform? I want to hold my employee accountable and help him/her have a satisfactory job performance.
How do you define success? By finding the courage, confidence, and patience to speak with that person until the problem is resolved.
What skills or competencies do you need to develop? I need to work on my confidence level and prepare for the first meeting to have a strong plan of action (e.g. clarifying expectations, developing performance improvement plan, creating accountability measures, and committing to follow-up meetings).
How will you gain those skills? I will speak with my boss and with HR regarding internal policies and procedures and speak with an executive coach to develop more self-confidence and craft a more refined strategy.
What thoughts (excuses) will you no longer indulge in? I will stop saying that I am not capable of doing it because I know that I am. It will be uncomfortable at first, but it will feel so good to face reality instead of avoiding it!
In conclusion, I strongly encourage you to pay attention to how you perceive what is possible for you. Keep reminding yourself that past behavior is just past behavior, and it doesn’t mean you can’t do something. It only means there is something for you to learn. Every master was once an amateur. You can become exceptionally good at something you find challenging.
However, don’t fall into the perfectionist trap. You don’t need to excel at everything. Carefully identify what is worth transforming and give it your best but don’t worry about little things that don’t matter. The goal here is to feel more empowered and keep becoming a better leader, not creating undue pressure.
You don’t have to do this alone. Click here to schedule a time to speak with me about how I can make this process painless for you. More and more colleges and universities are now hiring executive coaches to work with their leadership team. There is no better way to spend your professional development dollars, and even if you have to use your personal resources, it will still be worth it. It’s just too painful to play small and feel the pain of avoidance and regret. You deserve better. Let me show you!
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.