Level Up: Swap Outdated Strategies for Bolder Ones

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It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

EDMUND HILLARY – Mountaineer, Explorer, Philanthropist.

What got you here is now limiting you

People who have achieved success in their careers sometimes hit a wall that prevents them from crossing over to the next level at work or in their personal lives. 

That “wall” usually is a mindset or heart-set block that is often invisible to us but gets in our way and becomes the barrier to experiencing what we yearn for. 

Most of us get the standard leadership training and guidance from mentors – about focusing on strategic thinking, going from doing to enabling others, seeing the bigger picture through broadening our networks, and understanding businesses adjacent to ours to “up-level” our leadership abilities. These aren’t the mindset blocks I’m referring to; these are explicit skills and capabilities that anyone can learn and practice.  

What we don’t usually think about are mindsets that make applying these skills and what we learn challenging – this is how we get in our own way.

Five strategies that were effective in the past

The following are common mindsets people lean on as they begin their careers or life. Often these are the same strategies that people reach for when they are in survival mode because they can move the needle in the short term: 

1. Perfectionism 

High standards, thoroughness, and attention to detail allow us to produce high-quality work. It motivates us to improve thus enabling us to stand out and be rewarded for our work ethic and skillfulness. 

2. Self-criticism

Perfectionism often comes hand in hand with self-criticism. This strategy enables us to scrutinize ourselves, our work, and our actions before others do. By doing so, we can identify potential flaws that motivate us to improve, further mitigating the impact of external criticism.

3. Fear-based motivation 

Fear is an effective motivator as it taps into our survival instincts and drive. Fear pushes us to jump higher, run faster, and be hyper-vigilant to potential threats. Even though fear creates tremendous internal distress, we adopt this strategy because it enables us to “swallow nails,” “jump through flames,” and be recognized and rewarded as a “high performer.” 

4. Mind-reading 

We adopt mindreading as a strategy to anticipate the needs of others without direct communication. Anticipating others’ needs can make us seem “easy” to work with and be around, as we seem to naturally navigate mercurial personalities and defuse conflicts. Mind-reading can also give us advance notice to plan a response or protect ourselves. Mind-reading can sometimes feel like a “superpower” that allows us to pick up on nonverbal cues or “read” a room.

5. Approval-seeking

It’s part of our human nature to want to be liked and accepted by others. Adopting likeability or approval as a strategy allows us to build allies and protect us from being a potential target for attack or rejection. 

Anticipating others’ needs can make us seem “easy” to work with and be around, as we seem to naturally navigate mercurial personalities and defuse conflicts.

The same strategies that helped now harm

While these strategies may have served us at some point, they tend to do more harm as we move higher in our leadership scope and with added responsibilities at work and in life.

Perfectionism 

Over-relying on perfectionism keeps us stuck in our comfort zone and limits our growth.

  • As an individual, it makes us sit on a good idea for far too long that by the time it’s perfect and ready to share, the moment has passed and it’s become less relevant
  • As a team player, it limits our ability to collaborate, evolve, and sharpen our thinking which requires exchanging ideas in “draft mode” 
  • As a leader, our perfectionistic tendency holds others back and disempowers their autonomy, curiosity, and creativity. Fostering growth requires psychological safety to fail and make mistakes along the way, as well as space for experimentation, reflection, and refinement. 

Self-criticism 

Our inner critic, much like a “frenemy” who constantly puts us down, while we continue to allow them to orbit our world, may push us in the short term but can ultimately undermine our progress. Over time, our inner critic holds us back, limits our potential, and makes us feel small, and undeserving, which becomes an upward battle on its own. Unlike constructive feedback (think from a good friend, a favorite teacher, or a mentor) that embodies compassion and real opportunities for growth, inner criticism is harsh and devoid of compassion. It’s often also unhelpful, negatively biased, unsubstantiated, hollow, or unactionable, which gradually shuts us down or leads to burnout.

Even though fear creates tremendous internal distress, we adopt this strategy because it enables us to “swallow nails,” “jump through flames,” and be recognized and rewarded as a “high performer.” 

Fear-based motivation

Using our inner critic, or other forms of threat to push us harder isn’t sustainable because fear-based motivation is draining. Performing in survival mode can be effective in the short term, as it was designed, but comes with a heavy tax if prolonged. The ultimate cost of using fear to motivate us is burnout, which impacts our happiness and well-being. Furthermore, we also sacrifice creativity (since fear repels curiosity and openness) and our ability to lead and create a psychologically safe environment for others to flourish.

Mind-reading

Mind-reading can undermine our impact and effectiveness when we work under a set of assumptions that haven’t been validated. 

Mind-reading creates misinterpretations and misunderstandings can lead to confusion for ourselves and others. Not only is the lack of clarity time-consuming, especially as our responsibilities grow, but it also consumes our energy, as it requires us to extend ourselves beyond what’s within our control and scope. 

When we over-rely on our ability to mind-read, we under-utilize other tools that lead to better problem solving like, direct feedback, inquiry, and exchange of ideas through collaboration.

The mindset we apply to ourselves often extends to others. If we expect others to read our minds, we become poor communicators, failing to convey our thoughts, feelings, and expectations. This can make us difficult collaborators and ineffective leaders.

Approval-seeking

The more validation we need, the less discernment we have. When we prioritize validation from others over our truth, we can become indecisive, inconsistent, passive, and conform to norms that may not be in alignment with our beliefs or values. This limits our ability to express unique perspectives required to innovate and advance progress. Over time, we can lose our sense of who we are, and our authentic selves

The more validation we need, the less discernment we have.

Uplevel with these 5 mindsets

Trade perfectionism for IMPACT

Instead of striving for perfection or flawlessness, experiment with focusing on impact. Ask yourself, “What impact can I create by sharing, doing, or acting on this now rather than waiting for perfection?”

The goal is to create an impact rather than endlessly polishing and delaying. Sharing the 80% solution trumps hoarding the ideal. More often than not, greater impact comes from acting on something useful rather than sitting on it until deemed perfect.

Trade inner critic for INNER ALLY

Our inner ally is the part of us that loves and wants the best for us – our best friend, hype-person, caregiver, and higher-wiser self, all-in-one.

Notice how often you spend time with (i.e., listen to) your inner critic, the voice that repeats unhelpful messages you’ve received in your life, rather than your inner ally.

Consciously create space for and spend more time with (i.e., listen to) your inner ally, fostering that relationship and inviting it to chime in more throughout the day.

Trade fear for LOVE or JOY-BASED MOTIVATION

If you ever had a great teacher – one who you still remember decades later – you’ll know that fear isn’t the only powerful motivator. There’s also love and joy – and a great teacher will embody love and joy to inspire excitement and passion for learning and growth.

Instead of running from a threat that’s motivated by fear. You can choose to run toward something that brings you love, joy, and peace. Instead of working out of fear, you can approach work with the intention of bringing love, joy, and peace to yourself and others.

Naturally, when we spend more time listening to our inner ally rather than our inner critic, our motivation shifts from fear, which is draining, to love and joy, which recharges us. This shift allows us to do our best work and experience fulfillment without burning out.

Trade mind-reading for ACCOUNTABILITY

Work with facts, not assumptions. Hold yourself accountable by gathering and validating data, and setting clear expectations for others. Stop wasting energy on mind-reading. Go directly to the source for information – it will save you time, mental strain, and emotional turmoil that will free up your bandwidth to focus on what matters.

Trade approval-seeking for AUTHENTICITY

Prioritize meaningful relationships and communities based on authenticity. Honor your values and prioritize what matters most to you. Identify people and things that don’t align with your values and enjoy letting them go to create more time and space for what’s good for you. Instead of seeking external approval, it’s time to choose what lights you up, and what brings you meaning, fulfillment, well-being, and peace.

Conclusion

The takeaway is that while certain mindsets have helped us in the past, these same mindsets can hinder us when over-used or when we enter a different stage of our career or life.

It’s important not to blame ourselves or label outdated mindsets as “wrong,” as they served us in the past and contributed to our current success. However, we’re likely in a different place now than when we first adopted these mindsets as strategies for success. What helped previously may now be holding us back.

The opportunity lies in honestly assessing what still works, what’s outdated, and replacing mindsets that are no longer serving us with ones that will, now that we’re no longer in survival mode.