Over a 6 week period I asked the LinkedIn community to share their real-life leadership challenges. During Office Hours each Monday I held a space to explore each challenge, and invited the combined wisdom of readers to comment.

  1. Difficult conversations
  2. Building autonomous teams
  3. Being true to yourself
  4. Dealing with a toxic employee
  5. How to manage managers
  6. Navigating organisational politics

Each real challenge was told through the voice of J.D., our anonymous leader. Creating a fictional leader, overwhelmed by challenge, was a deliberate editorial choice. It’s fair to say that J.D. had a diverse and deeply challenging 6 weeks! And I believe this is normality for today’s leaders.

Thank you to those contributing leaders who so brilliantly modelled trust and vulnerability in sharing your challenges. You know who you are. You are authentic, inspiring and courageous.

How many challenging situations are you currently holding? Stuff you have to urgently sort out, stuff you know is coming down the line. All of this generating internal conflict and competing tensions.

Please know that you are not alone!

This series supports my belief that leadership challenges have at their core a very few common threads; self-awareness, emotional courage, and human connection.

Common threads

Self-awareness is knowledge about…

  • your own preferences and how you view them as strengths and weaknesses
  • how your behaviours are perceived by others
  • the challenges your working style presents to others
  • the values, beliefs and stories you hold, and upon which you justify your actions and place in the world.

Emotional courage, is the extent to which you’re willing to hold the discomfort, risk and uncertainty of speaking up, taking action and being seen. It’s being willing to take a stand, in service of your beliefs; to choose to take a risk in front of your team, peers and superiors.

Importantly, emotional courage is your willingness to take ownership of the role you play in co-creating your challenges. Your story may be that of victim, but what’s an alternative narrative in which you’re a stakeholder, taking equal responsibility? It’s the courage to flex, in the service of a better outcome.

Human connection – the relationships we build and maintain are at the heart of everything. How much are you willing to invest. If kindness is about speaking truth, rather than being nice, how much truth will you respectfully speak?

Naturally Creative, Resourceful and Whole

We each have our own answers already within us. But if we’re feeling the impact of unresolved challenges, then it’s because we are missing something, and can’t yet see those answers.

And that missing piece is seeing how we get in our own way, and naming the self-limiting beliefs we have created.

Self-limiting beliefs are barriers that inhibit action, drain confidence, tell us that we can’t, blinker us to possibilities, and have us retreat within rather than reach out. They are present in many forms.

Self-limiting barriers:

  • If I ask how to do something people will think I can’t do this work
  • If I need help I have to acknowledge that I can’t do the job
  • If things could be improved or fixed, someone better than me would already have done it
  • I think we should do things differently, and we don’t, so I must be wrong
  • I can’t lead and expect people to do the work, unless I can do it all myself
  • Who am I to judge the performance of others?
  • I can’t be a leader because I’m not an extrovert
  • I’m not a forceful personality so how can I influence and persuade others
  • I can’t take time for personal development because I have to be seen to be running the team all the time.
  • I have to add value, that’s why I’m here.

Organisational barriers:

  • Leaders are hired because they should already know how to deliver
  • Delivery and results count. They’re measurable. Relationships and soft-skills are not.
  • Technical training is well understood and training programs are well supported. But leadership development isn’t well understood and often not supported at all.
  • There’s little or no focus on leadership performance and feedback
  • There is little or no ‘free’ time for peer managers to interact and support each other.
  • Leaders are isolated, siloed in projects, with little time to network.
  • Leaders must be seen to be busy, working at least as hard as their team, usually harder.

Leadership Lost

I see huge leadership potential, human potential, being wasted because individuals and organisations needlessly and unconsciously build these barriers. I’ve seen it myself in the workplace and I see it in my work with clients. Barriers needlessly impeding growth and sucking self-confidence. Organisations lose out – lacking leadership bench strength, have poor retention. Individuals lose out – denied opportunities for autonomy and mastery – and are unfulfilled. 

Lost leadership potential sits uncomfortably with me. It’s part of what I see as the tragedy of wasted human potential, and I find that hard to be with. This is why I now coach.

So how do we break through these self-limiting barriers? If we could break through, we would have done so already. Right? Wrong! That is flawed logic.

Breaking through is hard, and if what you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked, you need to try something different. This is where coaching can help. A coach will hold a space for you to discover together how you get in your own way. They will, without judgement, and knowing you have the best answers, hold a mirror up to you.

Ultimately, when we decide to…

  • take ownership of our choices
  • claim our own personal power
  • change the patterns we co-create

…then those self-limiting barriers can be dismantled.

Is it hard? Yes.

Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely.

Is it worth it? Only you can know if what you really want is worth it.

What I wish for

My wish for every person who practices leadership at every level:

  • You find the confidence to own, embrace, and believe in your huge leadership potential
  • You can see and name, in the moment, the stuff that you’re uncomfortable being with
  • You are excited to go, right now, and experiment in your leadership
  • You have the emotional courage to hold that stuff lightly and remain present
  • You create space for everyone to show up and shine their brilliance.
  • You see that you can and you do make a difference in this world.

Above all, know that you are not alone.

If you’re committed to pushing through your barriers to higher impact and are looking to partner with someone to help you, know that leadership coaches, like me, are here to help.