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Limiting Beliefs: Leadership's Top Adversary

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Limiting beliefs are the mental blocks that prevent us from realizing our full potential and accomplishing our ambitions. These beliefs can shape our automatic behaviors and judgments, and they can originate in childhood or as a result of traumatic experiences. To achieve their full potential and move up the corporate ladder, leaders, executives and basically any human looking to accomplish challenging goals must learn how to recognize and overcome limiting beliefs that hold them back.



Leaders and the Illusions of Internal Limits


The need for control, the fear of failure, and the desire to be perceived as powerful can play a role in the limiting beliefs that many executives hold. These individuals tend to have a number of restricting beliefs, such as:


· "I'm not good enough" might prevent leaders from taking chances and stunts their development.


· "I can't do it alone" - This perception can cause leaders to micromanage and hinder the growth of their team due to a fear of delegating work.


· "I don't have the necessary background/education," can result in being less open to trying new things and develop innovative solutions.


Essentially our internal negative thought patterns can render us inactive or frozen in our pursuit to achieve greater things or put us in a position to self-sabotage fulfilling the prophecy that we just can’t do it.


A leader's performance, decision making, and effectiveness are all negatively affected by limiting beliefs. A leader who doubts their own abilities can pass up opportunities to learn and because they're too riddled with anxiety and self-doubt to try something new.

Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology indicated that leaders with higher levels of self-doubt and lower self-esteem were less effective, which makes sense. They made fewer educated guesses, were less willing to take risks, and failed to inspire and motivate those around them.


How to Reframe


The good news is that, with the correct strategy, these maladaptive thoughts can be reframed and replaced by healthier and more objective thinking. Some powerful strategies for rethinking limiting ideas include:


· Self-reflection. This is a great tool for identifying and reevaluating limiting assumptions.


· Refute negative thinking by arguing against it using evidence that shows the contrary. For example, if you believe you’re not enough, make a list of all the ways you exhibit value.


· Positive affirmations: You can “re-wire” your neurology through repetition. Choose a few key phrases that help to support your efforts instead of work against them and either repeat them to yourself throughout the day or write them down.


· Ask for and be receptive to criticism from trusted colleagues and mentors. Maybe the thing you’re feeling insecure about is something that needs to be addressed. That’s okay! Seeking progress over perfection allows us to develop and grow as leaders.


· Instead of ruminating over setbacks, give thought to how you might improve as a person and as a result of your experiences.

· Take failure in stride — Instead of viewing it as evidence of your own inadequacies, take it as an opportunity to learn and develop.


Reframing: Real-World Illustration


The tale of Spanx's inventor, Sarah Blakely, provides a real-life illustration of how to reframe limiting beliefs. Despite believing she wasn't intelligent enough to launch a business, Blakely has instead focused on self-improvement and the accumulation of knowledge. She made the most of the few business skills she already had by reading widely and learning as much as she could about the field. In the present day, Spanx is an immensely profitable business, and its founder, Sara Blakely, is one of the world's wealthiest women who built her fortune from nothing.

For leaders and executives in particular, limiting beliefs can have a profound effect on our automatic, habitual responses. Recognizing and reinterpreting such ideas allows us to go past their limitations and into our true greatness.

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