The older I get, the more experience I gain, the more I have come to realize the power of the mind. The thoughts we think impact everything from our outlook of the world around us, to our individual performance and almost everything in between. As Henry Ford allegedly said, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Most leaders realize that their thoughts have the power to either enhance, or hinder, not only their performance, but also the performances of those they lead. In fact, most leaders I talk to think about what they are thinking about, as strange as that sounds, and work to make sure that their thoughts are enhancing the environment around them. And when their thoughts hinder either their performance, or those around them, they work to change those thoughts. All of this is vitally important, and fundamental, to a leader.
But, this post is about a different kind of thought. While the thoughts I am referring to above are conscious, meaning we hear them in our heads, the singular thought I am referring to today may or may not be. It may not be heard because it can, at times, be suppressed deep inside you. If so, it only becomes heard during times of stress or frustration. Because of this, it holds more power than it deserves. For this reason, it is the most dangerous lie a leader (might) ignore.
I won’t tease out what it is any longer. The most dangerous lie a leader might ignore is the following:
“It is always going to be like this.”
To be clear, there are hundreds of contending lies that leaders can tell themselves, but I am taking the position that this one—“it is always going to be like this”- is the most dangerous one a LEADER can believe for several reasons.
First, by definition a leader helps people move from point A to point B. Leadership is never sedentary and always requires movement. So, the word “always” in the statement, “it is always going to be like this,” implies that the leader no longer has agency to move whatever they need to move from point A to point B. Believing this lie, then, is the socially acceptable way for a leader to subconsciously say, “I give up.” Therefore, we need to root it out of our mind so that we continue to lead ourselves and others.
Next, this statement is the most dangerous lie because it can be buried inside our subconscious, as I already mentioned above. Think about some similar statements like, “I am not good enough,” for comparison. “I am not good enough,” is never subtle. It is usually heard very audibly in one’s mind, whereas “it is always going to be like this,” is less so. It typically comes in a time of seclusion, or late in the evening, when the day is done. It is the ultimate “give up” moment.
As I will mention below in the application section, we need to combat this lie with truth. This starts with recognizing the statement for what it is—a lie!—and reminding ourselves that things can change! That is, if we want to continue leading ourselves and others.
Finally, “it is always going to be like this” is dangerous because it is an opinion. I am going to capitalize whose opinion it is so that you do not miss it. It is YOUR OPINION of YOUR SITUATION. What makes this so dangerous is that you tend to agree with your own opinions! What I mean is that when you hear it, you believe it, because you thought it!
But, it is still a boldface lie!
Therefore, I want to pivot to application because leaving you here would be like saying “it is always going to be like this, so good luck.” Not only is that not cool, I do not believe it for one second.
So, here are some applications:
First, start thinking about your thinking. Yes, think about what you are thinking about. Notice what you believe about situations. In fact, I recommend that you write down the themes that emerge. Spend time acclimating yourself to the trends of your thinking. Do you get negative when you are tired or stressed? Do you tend to make better decisions in the A.M. or P.M.? Simply notice how you think and how hard (or easy) you are on yourself.
Second, reflect on your own leadership. What initiatives are you ignoring? What people, or change, have you given up on? Ask yourself whether you subconsciously believe that it is always going to be like this? Be honest here. It is easy to gloss over this one. It is easy to even lie to yourself, which is why you cannot stop here (see number 3).
Third, ask someone else for help. I meet regularly with an Executive Coach and also an accountability partner. I highly recommend that you find one, or both, for yourself. If you think you can’t find one then find a coworker that you can trust. Or, ask your spouse to expose the trends of your thinking. After all, they most likely know you and your thought patterns better than any other human on the planet!
Take time to reflect on the 3 points listed above. Are you voicing a subconscious belief that “things (in whatever situation you are describing) are always going to be like this?” Take it from me, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking you do not think this way. Sometimes I need my Executive Coach to call me out, like he did last year when I (subconsciously) voiced an opinion that our sales were always going to suffer because of COVID. He immediately challenged me back, “it is your job to lead and make sure that is not the case!”
In essence, he was reminding me that “things do not have to always be this way!”
Finally, and the applications listed so far are not intended to be an exhaustive list, I would highly recommend taking a deeper dive on the topic of the mind. The best book I have read on this subject is Craig Groeschel’s, Winning the War In Your Mind. I highly recommend reading this book and following the exercises prescribed in the book.
In closing, there is one thing I know about leadership that I want to leave you with that I hope will encourage you. As I stated above, leaders move things from point A to point B. They do this because they are always surrounded by people, the very people they are leading.
So, with others around you, things do not have to always be the way they are. Things can change.
Whether your version of “things are always going to be this way,” is something related to you personally, or your organization, I can say this with confidence. With the help of others, you, or your organization, CAN change.
Believing things can change starts the process of, you guessed it, changing!
It is equivalent to the farmer planting the seed.
So, remember that you are not on this journey alone.
You have more people around you that care than you most likely realize.
These are the truths that you need to remind yourself of regularly.
Things can change.
It may be this way today, but things can and will change tomorrow.