Leaders – take note: the secret assassin waiting to catch you out

By Heather Campbell

Have you ever wondered how people can be so stupid that they can’t see the obvious? Do you sometimes think you’re the only sane person in the room? Or maybe you feel like a misfit because everyone else seems to see something that you just don’t?

Chances are, it’s your PARADIGMS that are to blame. How much are your paradigms distorting your leadership, holding back your career and undermining your results. Most likely way more than you realise.

A paradigm is an embedded perspective or set of ideas. A paradigm gives us a way to make sense of the world. They’re such an embedded worldview that we don’t even notice them. And that’s why they trip us up unless we build our skill in recognising, managing and, sometimes, even changing them.

Some of our paradigms exist at a macro-level and are shared across a whole society or demographic. One societal-level example is the conflicting paradigms between ‘Boomers’, Millennials’ and ‘Gen Z’. For all of you who, like me are Gen X, we’re such a small generation, we often get overlooked! Nobody cares about our paradigms (sob).

A paradigm that many leaders continue to struggle with is whether working from home is effective because, for so long, the paradigm was that people worked at their workplace. Right now, many leaders don’t know whether to embrace their former paradigm or get comfortable with a new one.

And paradigms exist at a personal level too. They’re formed from our experiences and what we are taught by teachers, parents, friends and the culture within which we grow up.

While paradigms are useful because they help us make sense of the complex world around us, they cause problems too because they don’t simply dictate how we see they world, they drive how we behave within it too. Those behaviours aren’t always effective, especially when we come up against someone whose paradigm clashes with ours.

The more aware of your paradigms you become, the easier you will find it to moderate your behaviours before they have a negative impact on you and others around you.

Here are three paradigms that I’ve discussed with leaders in coaching sessions this week.

Example 1: Leader A’s paradigm is that leaders who report to him should evidently be under pressure. If everything seems in order, that person is clearly coasting and needs to be pushed harder. When faced with an individual who was on top of things, in control and delivering the required results, Leader A got angry with him and accused him of not pulling his weight. The resulting conversation was not positive!

Example 2: Leader B’s paradigm is that a regular ‘telling off’ and ‘fault finding’ drives people to deliver more. As a result, he prides himself on nit-picking and always telling people that he is dissatisfied with their output. Contrary to his belief in the positive outcome his behaviours drive, he has created a senior team who spend hours poring over all their figures before presenting them to him, which wastes a lot of time for everyone involved. On top of that, his leaders dread every monthly performance review because the experience is so negative.

Example 3: Leaders C’s paradigm is that her colleagues on the Executive Leadership Team, don’t respect her because she is new to the organisation. Therefore, she talks around topics in meetings rather than getting to the point, even when the subject majors on her area of specific expertise. She also notices that she holds back until invited to contribute rather than stepping forward as she wishes to do. She is frustrated with this behaviour and recognises that her paradigm is not effective within her new senior role.

We all have our own paradigms and they are invaluable in many settings. But they won’t always serve us well.

Next week, I’ll share with you the everyday signs that your paradigms are tripping you up and distorting your leadership, your career and the results you are achieving. Then we’ll look at how you can start to manage them more effectively too.

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