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5 obstacles of self-leadership and how you can overcome them

Self-leadership is a prerequisite for successful leadership - this realization has now reached the management floors. But what are the internal obstacles that leaders must overcome?

1. see through selective perception

Self-leadership is a prerequisite for successful leadership – this realization has now reached the management floors. But what inner obstacles must leaders overcome, what inner saboteurs must they tame, in order to successfully lead themselves and others? With this article we have taken a closer look at this question and in today’s final article we address how managers can deal with selective perception limitations.

In order to independently lead oneself, employees, colleagues and bosses, one also needs the knowledge of how perception works. We perceive through our sensory organs and filter the information that comes at us. Past experiences, attitudes, beliefs, values, preferences or taboos, current needs, moods, etc. serve as our perceptual filters. In fact, we only let through our subjective filter glasses what fits our inner self. E.g. If a supervisor has already formed a bad opinion about an employee, in the next appraisal interview he will primarily perceive the behavior that fits this opinion. If one has been shaped in a conservative environment, one will be
in the sense of selective perception may find it difficult to accept the innovative ideas of team members… All these filtering processes take place in a matter of seconds. At the same time, we interpret and evaluate what we perceive based on our individual filters, thereby creating feelings that influence our actions. In other words, in order to assess situations correctly, we need to realize that what we believe to be real is our individual creation and that our counterpart most likely sees the same situation differently. This constructivist recognition that reality is of a subjective nature is equally met with resistance by many supervisors. It infers that as leaders they are solely responsible for their feelings, and this makes the sometimes comfortable victim-perpetrator attitude impossible.

It is obvious that the saboteurs within us are strong and that self-leadership requires a lot of courage, honesty and mindfulness. For this to succeed in the long term, managers need to make a clear commitment – day in, day out. Are you ready?

2. contact with yourself

You may feel the first self-leadership saboteur when you read in the next lines that it’s about to get psychological. For us, self-leadership starts with getting in touch with yourself – as you would usually do with another person: looking, feeling, reflecting, listening… What sounds so simple is difficult for many people, and there is a reason for that.

In our earliest childhood, we were usually conditioned to conform to the expectations of our caregivers and to function according to their needs. Our authentic self-expression was often not desired. For a child it is a painful experience, which he can only cope with if he splits off the feelings and thus a part of his self. In other words, not getting in touch with oneself is thus a child survival strategy that had an important life-sustaining function at the time of its emergence. As children, we were dependent on our parents. As adults, we are in a different situation and can take care of ourselves. Listening to one’s own needs, taking care of oneself, doing what feels coherent in a self-determined and autonomous way (even though parents might disapprove) are among the most important self-leadership skills.

However, if a leader remains trapped in his childlike survival strategy, he hinders his development. Unconsciously, one then continues to strive to meet the expectations of one’s parents instead of bringing into one’s life that which corresponds to one’s own identity. A supervisor who is not connected to herself will also have difficulty establishing real interpersonal contact with employees. You can attend as many communication or leadership seminars as you like: If the exchange is purely instrumental, employees will not warm to such a leader.

3. de-tabooing feeling

Contact with oneself is dangerous for many in that one then begins to feel oneself. While the German business culture is one of the global champions when it comes to professionalism and objectivity, emotions are still strongly tabooed in many German companies and seen as a sign of incompetence and weakness. Another inner saboteur might surface on the topic of feeling because feeling, unlike numbers, dates, facts, is often associated with loss of control, unpredictability, and powerlessness. Many managers have never learned to deal constructively with these feelings.

And yet, in our view, self-direction is not possible without feeling. Now, when you allow feeling, you can really get in touch with your own self. Only then do you, as a manager, gain access to your own needs and can sense, for example, when your own (or others’) boundaries are being crossed, what behavior or decisions are coherent, and how to address employees individually. Behavior without drawing on one’s emotional intelligence is akin to shooting blind. Maybe now and then there will be a chance hit. However, if you also use the intuitive level in addition to the cognitive level, which Peter Senge, among others, advises us to do with his concept of Personal Mastery, you increase the probability of success enormously.

4. know each other

A self-leading person strives to know and understand himself. This is an ongoing process that is not only about perceiving and reflecting on one’s own behavior, but much more about understanding the unconscious causes and motives behind behavior. In Germany in particular, we are dealing with a very businesslike business culture: The importance of the rational level in matters of leadership is greatly overestimated. Neurobiological research has shown that the unconscious in particular has a decisive influence on the processes of perception, thinking and decision-making. The unconscious is always faster and more powerful, inviting us to admit that there is always a great unknown dimension within us. Socratic “I know that I know nothing” stems from a humble attitude and meets resistance from the sabotaging ego of many leaders.

In order to make this blind spot smaller and to shape leadership behavior more consciously, knowledge about one’s own imprints, conditioning, attitudes, beliefs and patterns is needed. Because from imprints comes attitude, from attitude comes behavior and ultimately the effect of a leader. If you learn to see this in yourself, you become a sighted person in relation to your co-workers. If you remain blind to your own inner self, you will not be able to recognize much in your employees either.

5. take responsibility and allow vulnerability

Someone who leads himself knows his strengths and builds on them. At the same time, you take responsibility for your own well-being. One develops awareness of one’s own expectations, e.g. directed at co-workers or bosses, regarding praise and recognition. Instead of expecting them from the outside, you learn to value, encourage and empower yourself. You pay attention to yourself and give yourself space by taking your own needs seriously. In order to recognize them correctly, you need to be in touch with your own feelings. By dealing with themselves in this responsible manner, the manager steps out of the victim-perpetrator dynamic that is widespread in teams: Often, supervisors feel like victims of “difficult” employees or vice versa. The consequence of unfulfilled expectations projected outward is always disappointment and struggle. One becomes blind to all the possibilities and solutions that can be found within one’s own sphere of influence and forgets to make use of one’s creative power.

In addition to strengths, however, it is equally important to know the so-called weaknesses, one’s own sore spots, within. No one likes to admit that they exist. Especially in the business world, the image of a successful leader is characterized by toughness, invulnerability, determination and perseverance. You have to put the injuries away accordingly. And so many seminar participants in our leadership seminars found it difficult to accept Schulz vom Thun’s assumption that there is an Inner Team with inner team members in each of us. Among them, we may find wounded, needy or insecure characters who need to be guided, encouraged and stabilized. Admitting one’s own vulnerability is a major internal hurdle for many executives, especially male executives. One denies, suppresses or fights the “weaknesses” in order to meet the presumed expectations in one’s own environment and to save face. The result is enormous internal pressure, loss of energy and – in the long run – personal stagnation. Without the acceptance of one’s own vulnerability and willingness to take care of the inner developmental tasks, no personal growth, stability and self-leadership is possible. But if you come to an unconditionally appreciative attitude towards yourself and do something good for yourself, even in situations where you weaken or even fail, you create a stable basis to successfully regulate yourself. At this point, it should be noted: We find healthy self-criticism based on an actual-target comparison equally important.

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