Many leaders I work with are experiencing leadership challenges that they would like to overcome. There is no doubt that coaching is a great way to develop creative solutions to problems and build a more effective mindset to tackle leadership challenges.
However, it’s not magic. Unfortunately, I can’t wave a magic wand and make all the problems go away, and nor can anybody else.
The truth is that many workplaces are full of politics, self-interest, bad behaviour and pressure. I don’t believe they need to be this way, and we can improve this, but this is what many leaders are dealing with on a day to day basis.
Sometimes, when a coaching client tells me what they are dealing with, in my head I’ll think “Wow, that’s terrible, how do you put up with that?!”
But that’s not necessarily helpful, or what they need to hear.
What Does It Mean to Be at Peace With Your Leadership Challenges?
Instead, many leaders who are struggling with their leadership challenges need simply to feel at peace with them.
When I say “at peace”, feel free to substitute this with at ease, content or satisfied.
This involves several parts. To feel at peace with a difficult situation, I believe you need to feel as if:
- You have done what you reasonably can to improve the situation
- You’re on the right track. The things you are doing are making progress; and
- You haven’t given up on yourself or your people.
It isn’t about creating a perfect world.
It’s about making progress, feeling like you’re doing your best and being able to give yourself credit for that.
Focus On the Inputs, More Than the Outcomes
If you ever watch interviews with athletes, they’ll often say things like:
“We’re just taking it one game at a time”
“This week we’re just focusing hard on our preparation”
“We’re just trusting the process”
These statements can be annoying, because you really want to hear someone shout “We’re the best team in the world and we’re gonna beat everyone!”
The reason athletes say these things is because they are trying to stay grounded. They are also trying to focus on what they can control, rather than on external factors.
Learn More: How Letting Go Will Help You Take Control.
What’s Your Locus of Control?
Locus of control is a concept that represents how much you feel you can influence your situation.
Somebody with an internal locus of control believes they can make change and can influence the situations in their life.
A person with an external locus of control believes that things are happening to them, and are the result of external forces.
If you believe you have no power over your situation, you will begin to feel helpless and you’ll fail to take action.
On the other hand, if you feel like you can control everything, you’ll likely become frustrated as you fail to make change.
The trick is to find the right balance.
Leaders who blame external factors for their situation are at risk of giving up, and failing to take action.
Leaders who feel they can control everything are at risk of losing confidence when they find some things outside of their influence.
How to Be At Peace With Your Leadership Challenges
When faced with difficult leadership challenges, some leaders will say “I’m out of here!” and quit.
But this isn’t an option for everybody and if you want to make positive change, it’s good to be able to stick around.
So let’s look at how you can be at peace with your leadership challenges, instead of being flattened by them.
1. Be at Peace With Your Leadership Challenges, By Clearly Identifying What You Can Control
If I woke up every day and tried to control the weather, I’d often be disappointed.
If I arrived at work every day and tried to control my boss, the senior executives and my own team, I’d feel frustrated and ineffective because it’s not in my power to do so.
To feel at peace with your leadership situation, you need to be clear on what you can control, and what you can’t.
For this, we’ll use my old trusty friend, the Sphere of Control. I’ve written about this tool several times, but a recap is always helpful.
As you can see from the graphic, the sphere has three layers. The outside is the Sphere of Concern, which consists of things you might be interested in, but can’t control at all, like the weather.
Second comes the Sphere of Influence, which consist of factors you can influence, but can’t control directly. This might be your health, how your team behaves or the decisions your boss makes.
Last is the best part, the Sphere of Control itself. In here are all the factors you can directly take action on, and make decisions about.
As an example, exercise is in your Sphere of Control, because you can directly choose to go for a run, do weights or go to a yoga class.
However, your overall health is in your Sphere of Influence, because even though you might do a lot of healthy things, you can’t guarantee you will be healthy.
In a leadership example, creating processes and procedures for your team to follow is within your control. But you can’t force your people to follow them, you can only influence them to do so.
Common Leadership Examples to Focus On
Below are some common situations to show how we can shift our focus to what we can control.
We want to focus on the left hand side, instead of the right.
2. Take Accountability for Fixing Problems, But Understand What Caused Them
Some leaders will find problems in their workplace and try to solve them. This is good, because it’s how you’ll improve your situation.
However, this becomes an issue when we start to take ownership for causing the problem at the same time. We take the burden all for ourselves.
In other words, we might blame ourselves for the issue, if we’re having trouble solving it. However, this only leads to feeling bad about our situation, when in fact, we might not have caused it at all.
Consider the actions of your boss. You can’t control what they do, and they might do things that cause problems for your team. You might be the one to help solve these problems, but you didn’t cause them to happen.
A good way to feel at peace with your leadership challenges is to focus on solving them, without necessarily taking the burden of ownership for them.
Sure, it’s OK to admit fault and take the blame when it’s yours to take. But not when others have contributed to the situation which you’re working to improve.
3. Feel Good About Your Inputs, Instead of the Outcome
When you write a Todo list, what do you put on it?
Do you write “Make the CEO really happy by writing an excellent report”? Or do you instead write “Complete the report for the CEO?”.
In this fictitious situation, you’d probably write the latter.
Because you can’t make the CEO happy. You can only provide them with a great report, which may or may not make them happy.
In other words, this is about focusing on your inputs. You can put the work in, but you can’t always control the outcome of that work.
It’s important to keep this in mind for yourself and your team. Encourage and recognise people for their inputs, rather than the outcomes.
You achieve your goals by taking action. The outcome is achievement of the goal.
If you want to be promoted, you can’t just make it happen. Being promoted is an outcome of a lot of hard work, which include your inputs.
Appreciate and feel good about the effort and the work you have put in. Focus less on what happens after that, because you can’t dictate the outcome.
Remember that a big result often comes after lots of small steps. You don’t climb a ladder in one go, you take it one rung at a time.
4. Ask Yourself “What Could I Do?”
This simple step is often forgotten.
You might find yourself focusing heavily on the negative parts of your situation. You might feel stuck, fixating on parts of your workplace and leadership that are bothering you.
The key to this is to ask yourself a simple question.
“I can’t do X or Y. So what could I do?”
Find your answer and start taking action.
And remember to feel good about yourself when you take small positive steps to improve your situation.
Other people around you might be waiting for things to get better, but that won’t happen by itself.
Learn More: Do You Have a Victim Leadership Mentality?
Be Careful Not to Play the Victim Card
Some leaders fall into a pattern of victim behaviour.
Woe is me. It’s not my fault. I can’t do anything about it. It’s out of my control.
While these statements may feel true for you, they aren’t helping. They will stop you from taking action, because you’ll start to think “What’s the point”?
Leaders with a victim mindset will stop trying. They’ll be complacent and wait for things to get better by themselves, which almost never happens.
Identify what you can control and make a plan of action to follow.
Follow the plan and enjoy the progress you make against the actions. If you receive a positive outcome, enjoy that too.
It’s your effort that will create results, not hoping for the outcome.