All of us have leadership instincts that guide us. Sometimes this can be a “gut feeling”, where we sense the right course of action. However, if we followed our instinct every time, I think we’d get in real trouble. Instead, we need to start doing the opposite.
We all hear of famous leaders who have great instincts for business, like what move to make, and when. However, when leading people, I’ve found that sometimes our instincts can deceive us.
When Is Doing the Opposite the Right Thing to Do?
Obviously every situation is different. However, I’ve found there are a variety of situations where following our instincts can get us in trouble.
Here are some examples where I usually find it’s best to do the opposite, rather than follow what our body and brain tells us to do.
Having That Difficult Conversation
I don’t know many people who love having difficult conversations. They might be about performance, behaviour or even bad personal hygiene which is affecting the team.
Whatever the case, difficult conversations are often avoided. We put them off, or we convince ourselves that they aren’t really needed and things will work themselves out.
Instinctively, we’ll feel a great deal of resistance to having hard conversations. And this is a great sign that we should be doing the opposite.
Collaborating With That Colleague You Don’t Get Along With
Many leaders have colleagues they don’t like that much, or they just don’t see eye to eye with.
The temptation with these types of colleagues is to avoid them. To spend as little time with them as possible.
When you have no need to work together, then this can work. You don’t need to be close to everyone in your workplace.
However, conflict and dysfunction often occurs when relationships are strained. Relationships become strained because we don’t spend enough time trying to improve them.
Sometimes, doing the opposite can mean forcing ourselves to collaborate with someone we don’t enjoy spending time with, to get a better result, or to stop things from getting worse.
The more we avoid these situations, the harder they can be to fix. Is it time to do the opposite and engage, rather than avoiding?
Helping Our People
Being helpful is nice, and many thoughtful leaders love providing support to their people.
This is a great leadership quality … until it goes too far.
When someone is in distress and needs our help, the first instinct is often to run and provide assistance. To take away the pain and be the supportive leader.
However, sometimes doing the opposite is what is really helpful.
Choosing not to help can encourage your people to stand on their own two feet. To try to find answers for themselves, rather than to interrupt your flow each time.
Helping too much sets a precedent that you will always help. Over time, this can become a recurring theme which will sap your time and energy.
Saying “Yes” When We Mean “No”
Continuing the previous theme, thoughtful leaders often like to be helpful. People ask us to do things and we’d love to be able to say “Yes”!
Yes feels safe. It’s friendly, agreeable and helpful. People don’t get angry when you say “Yes”, but they might if you say “No”.
If you have a tendency to become overwhelmed with work, taking on other people’s problems and struggling to solve your own, then “No” is your best strategy.
However, our instincts will have us wanting to say “Yes”, because it’s socially acceptable, and doesn’t cause any immediate conflict.
Should you instead be doing the opposite, and saying “No”?
Admitting We Made a Mistake
It can be hard to admit failure. It makes us feel vulnerable and exposed.
Instinctively, it might feel better to hide from it, to avoid saying we messed up. If we can hide it, maybe nobody will ever find out.
However, being vulnerable is a great way to build trust, so maybe we should be doing the opposite?
Our ego can compel us to stay silent, but we might actually get better results from fessing up, even if it means our team can see us in our hour of “weakness”.
Emotions are critical in life and in leadership. They’re a great source of information for us to understand what matters to us, and what is impacting us in the workplace.
That is, until they get the better of us.
Having an emotional explosion in front of a team member because of a missed deadline or a sloppy report can cause fear or resentment to build within a team.
Instinctively, it can feel good to blame someone. To tell them it’s their fault. To say they should know better, and to really teach them a lesson.
But unfortunately, this rarely improves the situation.
Would it be better to do the opposite? To support and coach your people to do better next time, and to calmly set expectations about performance?
How Do We Show Restraint and Start Doing the Opposite?
All of the situations described above have a common theme: that we give in to our instinct, rather than doing something that could be more constructive.
Sometimes, we need to show restraint. To stop ourselves from taking action (helping, shouting, saying “Yes”).
Other times, we need to force ourselves to act, rather than to hide from or avoid action. To have a conversation, put your hand up and admit fault, or to say “sorry”.
If you find yourself following your instinct too often, then you’ll struggle to do the opposite. It’s hard-wired into your behaviour.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t change it. Just because we’ve been doing something for a long time, does not mean it is fixed forever. It might just take some work to make a change.
Here are three ways for you to start doing the opposite and getting a better outcome.
Use Physical Reminders
Physical reminders are a great way to help us remember what we’re trying to achieve. They help us to stop, think and take intentional action, instead of running on autopilot.
Some of my coaching clients use post-it notes, or they wear a wristband that helps them remember.
When they see the post-it note, or the wristband, it triggers them to take action, or to show restraint.
Your wristband might tell you not to say “Yes” straight away. It could tell you to stop and count to three, instead of speaking immediately.
I have a wristband that says “Breathe” on it. This isn’t to remind me to breathe in general. After 40 years of life, I have learned to breathe quite often.
Instead, it reminds me to stop, pause and take a deep breath when times are stressful. It also reminds me to breathe through my nose instead of my mouth, which is better for our health.
Whatever you need to remember, physical reminders can work for you too.
Recite Affirmations or Commitments
I like to use commitments and affirmations every morning when I wake up. These are powerful positive statements that help us focus and remember what we’re all about.
Over time, they can help you to overcome negative thoughts and to retrain your brain to think differently.
Your thinking is a powerful force, because your thoughts are always with you. So it makes sense that we try to think positively and constructively as often as we can!
You can read more about affirmations here.
I’ve also written previously about Daily Commitments and how you can use them for yourself.
Get an Accountability Partner
An accountability partner is somebody who holds you accountable for taking action, and they can be really useful to help keep you on track.
Ideally, they are someone who you trust, spends a reasonable amount of time with you, has your best interests at heart, but doesn’t always tell you exactly what you want to hear.
If you need to push back and say “No” more often, your accountability partner can spot when you’re falling into the “Yes” trap, and remind you of your goal.
Sometimes, when we are accountable to others instead of just ourselves, we tend to get better results because we don’t want to let the other person down!
Doing the opposite is something that many leaders need to do more of.
Following our instincts can lead us into trouble, or into a pattern of avoidance.
If you find yourself struggling with a situation at work, is doing the opposite the answer for you?
Where could you do the opposite to improve your leadership? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!