The following is an excerpt of Chapter 17 of my book, Learning Leadership Through Loss.
Every leader, regardless of education, credentials, skill set, and experience, has personal limitations. Quite simply, refuting this premise is choosing to live in denial. Great leaders cannot afford denial for longer than a few minutes or maybe a few hours. These limitations may be hard wired in your personality or learned by having observed certain behaviors from adults of influence in childhood. Your birth order may play a role. Stunted self-esteem and lack of confidence can be root causes of personal limitations along with abuse of your body through the ingestion of illegal or prescription drugs, consumption of alcoholic beverages, and generally poor health habits. Whatever the source of your limitations, know that they impact your job and career as well as your employees, volunteers, and organization at large. Everything is connected; silos and file folders exist only in your mind.
Facing your limitations and rising above them requires severe honesty. It also requires a helicopter view of YOU, a willingness to examine yourself from numerous, perhaps awkward angles. It necessitates laying aside old tapes that still play in your head: Those recordings from family or others that tell you that you can’t be or do certain things. Real and perceived personal limitations only have as much power as you give them. Today is a good day to take stock of the following list of personal limitations and their negative consequences. Identify the ones that resonate most with you. Make a plan for managing them.
Fraud syndrome. Too many women leaders feel inferior to other professional women and men. Fearing that you are not as intelligent, clever, savvy, and wise as your boss and peers, you dread being found out. If you harbor this secret concern, you probably play small. Focusing on your accomplishments can be one antidote to this problem.
Perfectionism. Waiting to complete projects until you pronounce them perfect exasperates others and slows work progress. Declining appropriate opportunities for yourself or your organization until you acquire the perfect skill to embrace them hinders career and company growth. Know this: You cannot achieve perfection in anything. It isn’t possible. Choose to say done sooner, and let yourself stretch for the sake of the greater good.
Overreactions. By its nature life is an emotional experience. Occasionally, though, women overdo it. Not every work situation requires a strong emotional reaction. Blowing things out of proportion saps energy and mars your professional image. Crying about those two hundred emails sitting in your inbox or allowing an empty printer ink cartridge to ruin your day is irrational. Identify the people and circumstances that push your buttons, and plan a neutral response in advance.
Weak leadership voice. A high percentage of women leaders speak with little or no authority. This shows up as timidity, soft volume, or verbosity when communicating a simple idea. It may come in the form of making statements that sound like questions or apologizing for delivering expectations to staff and volunteers. It also can be agreement with your Board Chair over something you can’t support. Learn to speak clearly, succinctly, and potently with authenticity and ease.
Inclination to hide. In my opinion, women leaders today are meant to shine. When you choose to remain invisible and silent, you can’t influence the folks you are charged to lead to the extent you’re being paid to do so. Further, you won’t impact company vision in a powerful way. You’ve got to come out from behind your computer. Develop a presence. Take a stand. Be vocal and visible.
Reluctance to act. Good intentions don’t make great leaders. Right actions taken for the right reasons do. Actions create movement in processes, procedures, relationships, and employee performance. That movement affects the bottom line. Hoping to grow your high potentials isn’t the same as devising a plan. Pick out one strategic action that you’ve put on the back burner, and schedule it in your calendar now.
Lack of confidence. Low confidence is the number one success buster for so many women. This is sad. Behind those pretty smiles, professional clothes, and fast paced strides often lie ugly self doubts that churn incessantly inside their heads. Second guessing decisions, stalling big projects, and supporting the status quo are examples of confidence on the rocks. It’s time to tune out that sabotaging mental chatter. Trying something new can give you a self-assurance you’ve never had before.
Exaggeration of facts. Overstating truth, a borderline character defect, detracts from your leadership credibility. Blowing things out of proportion can come back to haunt you both short and long term. Get in the habit of discussing happenings and situations for what they are. If you don’t, after a while people won’t believe you. Practice sticking to the official facts when you tell your next story.
Resistance to networking. Holding the belief that you cannot network effectively with other professionals is a personal limitation. Refusing to network both internally and externally sets you up for isolation that eventually stagnates your current job success and entire career. Prolonged disconnection from people who can provide support to you and your organization is a big mistake. Plug one networking function into your calendar each month to ease into it.
Fear of failure. While all people fear failure to some extent, this seems to be the Achilles heel for women. Confining yourself to a little, familiar box allows you to feel safe. But such behavior stunts growth as well as deprives colleagues, clients, and employees of the best of YOU. Identify three individual and organizational benefits to poking your head out of that box.
Health challenges. The majority of women in leadership positions suffer from some kind of physical, mental, or emotional challenge. Heart disease, diabetes, and depression abound. Left unmanaged, these conditions can erode job performance and mar your image. Be sure to seek appropriate health care on a regular basis, and get counseling when life overwhelms you.
How do your top two limitations affect others in the professional environment? How can you manage these limitations? What step can you take today to begin that process? How would your job performance improve if you viewed your limitations as invitations for growth?