Becoming Unstuck to Accelerate Your Career and Leadership Potential

Becoming Unstuck to Accelerate Your Career and Leadership Potential

21st August 2023, 1:09 pm

A common challenge people share with me is that they feel ‘stuck’ at their current level in their career or leadership journey, despite feeling they have the desire, energy and talents to progress. This can lead to feelings of self-doubt, frustration and diminished motivation. People often tell me that if only they could get out of their own way, they would make so much more progress, whilst enjoying life more.

Well, if we want to do well in the game of life, the first place to start is to explore how we can win the ‘inner game’. Here are 10 ways to expand your thinking about what might be keeping you at your current level and how to unlock your potential.

1. You may actually be further along than you think you are: A common theme I see in my work is that we often undervalue what we have accomplished so far in our career and hold back from giving ourself credit for how we have showed up. There can be a strong resistance to giving ourself the equivalent of a warm embrace of acknowledgment, which is often fuelled by a misguided belief that if we big ourselves up we may lose motivation or drive to be better and go ‘soft’.

However, celebrating yourself does not have to be a sign of big-headedness. It’s useful to remember that you are a different person from you were 3, 5 or 10 years ago. It can also be easy to fall into the trap of ‘comparisonitis’ – yes there will always be those around you who in your mind are ‘further along’, but how is that of value to you on your own unique journey?

What adversity have you overcome? What at one time felt difficult but through persistence and a willingness learn you have grown from? What can you be proud of?

TRY THIS: Write a (long) list of everything you would like to acknowledge yourself for. Don’t be shy! This can include anything: what you have created, your achievements, how you have grown as a person, the difference you have made, the lives you have touched. And don’t restrict yourself to just to your professional life, think about your personal relationships, hobbies, interests and passions.

2. Explore your values, passions, and what purpose means to you: If we want to go on a journey to somewhere new, it’s essential to ask ourselves where we are today. Through cultivating self-awareness, we can gain clarity on who we are as a person, including what we stand for, and what is important to us. Most of us want to live a life that is authentic and has meaning, and ‘knowing thyself’ is part of the journey.

Our values are like a compass through which we navigate life. And living in alignment with those values is what it means to live an authentic life. Getting clear on what matters most to us can also create clarity on our sense of purpose, in terms of the contribution we want to make to the world.

Just as a business or organisation has a mission statement, it can also be empowering to capture in writing the essence of who we both are and want to become.

TRY THIS: Write a list of 10 – 20 words that capture what you value the most. Words such as honesty, integrity, fairness and courage often emerge. Then review the list, reduce it to a top 5 and reflect on the degree to which you are living in alignment with these values.

And if you’d like to go further, have some fun with writing a personal mission statement in 100 – 200 words. Similarly, spend some time thinking about what the word ‘purpose’ means to you and how you want to be ‘used’ by life in service of something greater than yourself.

3. Ask for help: How do you feel about asking for help? Do you sometimes feel like you are going it alone? Surrounding ourselves with people who support us, champion us and offer a healthy dose of challenge is how we grow, whilst enjoying the journey.

· Who do you respect and admire? What it is about them that you respect and admire?

· Who inspires you? What inspires you about them?

· Whose brains would you love to pick?

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. We can all be giants standing on the shoulders of giants; you don’t have to go it alone.

TRY THIS: Explore getting a mentor from your industry or sector; reach out to people you respect and admire and ask to meet for a coffee; talk to friends and colleagues. People are usually very willing to help if you are genuine, clear in what you want help with and you demonstrate curiosity and a willingness to learn.

4. Own your unique gifts: Building on the above tips, it is worth acknowledging that how you see yourself will always be different to how others experience you. We all have blind spots, and if we’re honest, we can sometimes impact on those around us in ways that are not obvious to us, both negatively and positively. This is why 360 degree feedback can be so powerful, albeit best done in a context of trust.

TRY THIS: This is an exercise you can do off your own bat: Ask 10 people in your personal and professional life the following question without pause:

“What shows up when I do, what qualities do I bring to the room?”

You can do this in person or via a personal message (I used a voice note for this exercise). Do give a little context and explanation for what you are asking them for before asking the question. It’s important they don’t overthink and just say what comes to mind. Then write down all the responses – and look for themes and patterns. Then reflect on these questions: What surprises you? What resonates?

5. Get really curious about other people: Albert Einstein explained his genius when he famously said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Curiosity is a superpower we all have access to and in relationship and in conversations we can simply do this by listening, asking open-ended questions (e.g. tell me more?) and being what Shirzad Chamine calls a ‘fascinated anthropologist’.

Listening is a state of being as well as a skill that can be cultivated and great leaders excel at it. Yes, we want to be clear and inspiring in our own communication but leadership is also about bringing out the best in everyone around you and listening is a powerful lever for this. We grow (and facilitate the growth of those around us) not by sharing or validating what we already know, but by asking better questions.

TRY THIS: In your next meeting or conversation, get super curious, model ‘seeking to understand before seeking to be understood’, put yourself in other people’s shoes, use wonder to explore what’s important to other people and why they may be saying what they are saying. Don’t try and be the most interesting person in the room, be the most interested.

6. Explore your fears: Just imagine getting a promotion (even two rungs up the ladder) or creating significant growth in your business.

What feels scary about that? What excites you? What will be asked of you that currently feels out of reach? It’s useful to confront your fears and explore what is behind them.

Fear is there to keep us safe, to protect us, it was an essential survival function for our distant ancestors. Fear always has it a positive intention at its heart (in essence to keep you safe) but in the modern world it gets excessively activated. It can show as fear of failure, being found at, being exposed as a fraud and in the spiral of anxiety based thinking it can generate, a fear of rejection, humiliation or judgement of self and others. Our self-esteem, confidence and self-worth can all feel at stake. It’s fear that often holds us back and the antidote is courage and a willingness to step into the waters of the unknown. On the flipside, we can also fear success, where an elevation in responsibility and influence requires us to let go of old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

TRY THIS: Ask yourself, what if it was okay to fail, what would you do? Or, imagine, if you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

7. Embrace the journey towards mastery: Here’s a truth that comes up in my coaching and the workshops I run time and time again: you’ll never feel ‘good enough’, no matter what you achieve. That’s not how life works. Yes, we all have a desire for ‘better’ but attaching our self-worth to external success is a path to unhappiness and unfulfillment.

In the book Mastery, George Leonard share the concept of Shoshin, which means ‘beginner’s mind.’ It refers to the concept having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts. As Leonard writes:

“We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. It’s about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.”

Mastery is about committing and staying on a path, a mountain with no summit, as part of which there will be periods where you feel like you are on a ‘plateau’. Mastery is about loving the plateau and putting your energy into the journey, not the destination.

TRY THIS: Explore for yourself how you can adopt a beginner’s mind, placing more energy and attention on the process and journey rather than the destination.

8. Explore your blind spots and how you self-sabotage: We all have psychological saboteurs which come under different names such as the inner critic, the judge and the chimp. And this is true for everyone: from someone in a senior leadership position to an SME owner to a young professional just starting their career journey.

In the book Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine codifies the ten ways we all self-sabotage ourselves psychologically. He calls them simply ‘Saboteurs’:

“Saboteurs are the voices in your head that generate negative emotions in the way you handle life’s everyday challenges. They represent automated patterns in your mind for how to think, feel, and respond. They cause all of your stress, anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, restlessness, and unhappiness. They sabotage your performance, wellbeing, and relationships.”

These saboteurs are comprised of a dominant Judge (of self, others and circumstances) and a supporting cast that include the Hyper-Achiever, the Avoider, the Pleaser, the Stickler, The Victim, the Controller and the Hyper-Rational.

The good news is that when we become more aware of how these saboteurs show up and the lies they tell us, the less power they have over us. In addition, by exploring our dominant saboteurs, there are also the seeds of our strengths. For example, in terms of archetypes the pleaser is the dark side of the caregiver, the hyper-achiever is the shadow of the can-do hero. TRY THIS: There is a free saboteur assessment at that will give you a personalised report on your saboteurs.

9. Ask yourself, “why not me?” As Richard Bach said, “Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.” The unreliable narrator in ours heads will tell us all sorts of stories of why we cannot make the progress we desire or achieve our goals. A counterpoint to such limiting thoughts is to ask yourself, “why not me?” This question alone can open up our thinking. At the same time there can be huge power in unearthing and challenging all the limiting beliefs and ideas about what we are capable of. Indeed, the nature of such beliefs is that they become a self-fulfilling prophesy, trapping us in a never ending cycle.

TRY THIS. Adapted from what is known as The Work by Byron Katie, simply write down 5 – 10 reasons why you currently believe you cannot progress or achieve what you want. Then for each statement reflect on these four questions:

– Is it true?

– Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

– How do you react when you believe that thought?

– Who would you be without the thought?

This exercise can offer powerful insight into so much of the future based thinking we have that limits our potential whilst also creating space for new possibilities.

10. Keep learning: There are so many different ways to keep learning nowadays. What is your preferred learning style? What are your preferences? Do you prefer books, videos, podcasts or short courses and training? How much time and energy do you actually put into learning and your own growth? Cultivating a growth mindset is an ongoing process and can be approached with joy and curiosity.

TRY THIS: Whatever your next learning is, take a little time to reflect on or write down what you have learned and how you can put it into practice. You can also go one step further and share this learning with the world through conversations and sharing on social media.

What is your next step? When exploring ‘what next’ in your leadership and career journey it can be useful to take the process in stages. Even if you only try a few of the tips and ideas above, you will gain insight that can shape your strategy.

Step 1: Get to know yourself through some of the exercises in this article.

Step 2: Enter a divergent space where everything is possible and no idea is vetoed, allow yourself to dream.

Step 3: Then enter a convergent state of mind, where you prioritise, you get clear on the actions you will take, the support you’ll need and the work you want to do (to win the inner game). This is about owning the work, being the master of your ship and embracing the journey.

Step 4: Move into action and create systems to track your progress and stay accountable to yourself along the way. And if you’re really dreaming big, this quote by Bill Gates may help you stay on the path:

“People over estimate what they can achieve in a year but under-estimate what they can achieve in ten years.”

A final invitation: Whatever you want to create or achieve, write it down, create a compelling vision, visualise the future you thriving. Take a stand for your ambitions and dreams, share with those around your goals and ambitions. Speak them into the world. And remember, it’s more important where you are coming from rather than where you are going. And I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes of all time by W.H Murray:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

W.H. Murray

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