In one of my classes, I ask leaders to list everything they want on a piece of paper. This can be their dreams, goals, aspirations — anything they can think of. On the back of the paper, I ask them to list all the obstacles they face to achieve those aspirations.
After, I ask them, “How many of you put your name down on that list?”
We’ve heard it before and often, that the number one thing that stands in the way of us and our dreams is ourselves. However, we hardly ever acknowledge this.
What is it about me that holding myself back?
Who am I being that hinder me to become the person that I am?
Meeting leaders after leaders, I notice certain characteristics that hold them back from unleashing their inner leadership.
1. They don’t take charge of their own development.
As I write here, many leaders wait for other people to “groom” them. They rely on their leaders and companies to ensure they are growing and give them opportunities.
“They don’t give me enough trainings and coachings.” Well, even if that is true, how come there are people who can be great leaders without trainings and coachings?
2. They are too rigid.
Leaders are comfortable in facing uncertainties. Leaders can adapt easily to situations. Leaders can be put in new situations knowing that they can always rely on themselves.
I often ask leaders on how they travel, because it reveals how they face these situations. Do they always have a fixed itinerary or leave experiences to chance? Do they get stresses out and complain when things don’t turn out what they expected (i.e. missing the bus, not so clean hotel, bad food, etc) or still try to adapt to the situation? Do they panic when lost or stay calm? Are they comfortable connecting with people with different culture or would rather do things that are comfortable for them?
This too is reflected at work. We have this tendency to always want to be in control. That things has to be a certain way or the high way. And we don’t realize that this rigidity is what holding us back.
3. They are resistant to do things outside their comfort zone.
I remember the first time I announce to my group of leaders that they are going to stay one night with a homestay family in their humble homes. They might not have electricity. They might not have the proper bathroom. They might not have the proper bed. If you can only see their faces and reactions.
What I am most proud about them is that even though they are nervous and shocked, they are still willing to experience it instead of making up excuses.
Sometimes, we makes excuses and not realizing it. “I am not good at this.” “This is not what we do.” “But this is who I am, I cannot change.” Can we challenge our own excuses?
4. They think they don’t need development, only their teams do.
Good is the enemy of great. The moment we think we are good, we are sabotaging ourselves. The moment we think we don’t need to learn anymore, we are actually just being arrogant. How can we inspire others to grow if we are not growing?
5. They try too hard to look and be perfect.
There is an Indonesian word called “JaIm.” It an abbreviation for “Jaga Image” which means “Protecting The Brand” — but the better translation is actually you want to look good in front of others that you are not being your authentic self.
A lot of times, perfection is what holding us back. We are so afraid of being vulnerable where it is the quality that makes leader inspiring. I often ask leaders to share about their failures. You’d be surprised that many of them cannot recall a story or not comfortable sharing it. It is ironic because usually we learn more from failures and mistakes than successes.
Or maybe, we are so insecure that we find the need to over-compensate. We have this need to prove to others that we are good. Even though, most likely, we don’t realize this.
And this is the toughest things about being a Leader. How much are we aware of these 5 things when we are experiencing them? Can we become more aware of our blind spots? Or, do we nurture our denials more than our developments?
p.s. Most people who read this will easily think of their boss or colleagues. The challenge is, can you reflect times when you experience any of these?