When I was no more than 6 years’ old something happened to me at school that I carried with me, unknown for many years. I carried it with me as a limiting assumption that restricted me from being as effective and confident as I could be with those senior than me. How often is ‘discomfort with senior leadership’ seen as a barrier to being influential and credible in business? Fairly often I think, showing up as a lack of confidence through not speaking up, to failing to sway a decision despite having the facts. Simply working on developing capabilities and behaviours to influence or build presence were not enough for me; it took the support of a coach to get to the bottom of why I couldn’t be a confident leader with the most senior directors.
Now a coach myself, I understand that our assumptions can limit our behaviours, no matter how capable we are, and that the brain needs to uncover such limiting assumptions, hold them up to the light, see them for what they are, and replace them with a more liberating assumption that can remove a long term barrier in the blink of an eye.
In order to explain how you might be able to do this for yourself, I’ll share my story.
My initial schooling at Primary School was in an old building that within 2 years of me joining had been closed with us all moving to a new school. The building was so old that the toilet block required the children to leave their classroom and walk across the playground. My recollection of events was that one day I asked to leave the classroom, the teacher said yes, and I headed out across the playground. When I returned to the classroom, shut the door behind me, and returned to my desk to get on with my work I noticed that the teacher had popped next door to see the teacher of the adjoining class. About 10 minutes passed and I then realised that I had forgotten to wipe my feet on the mat when I’d returned so I dutifully went back to the mat and started to wipe them. The teacher returned, assumed I had only just come back in, told me off for dawdling and time wasting and then, without listening to my version of events, made me stand in the corner holding a broom. That incident was burned into my memory with the feeling that it wasn’t fair (such that fairness is still a strong value for me today). More importantly, it left me with a hidden assumption that even when you are ‘in the right’ or have something worth hearing, others more senior than you can ignore this and things may not turn out well.
So, my story may seem fairly trivial… ‘why get upset over that?’ … and logically that seems a fair assessment but this happened to a 5 year old. As young children we are building our model of the world and the way things work and can be hugely influenced by apparently small things.
Do you find that you have a career blocker that you just can’t get to the bottom of? Have you tried to build skills and capabilities to get past it? Still not working? Consider following the steps below to see if you can remove that blocker and make a leap with your career:
5 Steps to move past a career blocker*
- Reflect on the types of situations that you struggle with. What is the context? Who is involved? What is their behaviour typically like? How do you react? What typically happens? How do you feel?
- If you have been able to identify some common ingredients to times when you struggle, ask yourself what might I be assuming that is stopping me from behaving as I would like to (or achieving what I would like to)? Keep asking yourself that question until you have exhausted assumptions.
- Then ask yourself, which do you think is the assumption most stopping you? When you have decided what that is, ask yourself if the assumption is true. More often than not, the assumption will not be.
- If, when holding it up in the light of day, you believe the assumption is not true, ask yourself what your words are for what is true and liberating instead.
- When you have found a statement that feels powerful and true, ask yourself ‘If I knew that [new liberating assumption] what would I do? How would I feel? What would change for me?’
Replacing an outdated assumption that we formed perhaps to protect us in years past with another more relevant for us today can be a powerful way to move forward. Sometimes the attention of another to take us through the process is needed which is where a coach can help.
When I finally worked out what was holding me back from showing up confidently with others, a weight was lifted from my shoulders and new career paths opened. Perhaps it’s time for you to do the same?
* Source: Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind by Nancy Kline