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In a Leadership Position? You're not Superhuman, so Stop Trying to be

One of the biggest stressors for modern-day leaders is the pressure they put on themselves. Those leaders try to do it all themselves, ignoring delegations of authority and micromanaging their teams.


I don’t know when being a leader meant needing to be the finished article, the superhuman. Even the Wizard of Oz didn’t have it all figured out! Although those in a leadership position usually have a lot on their plates and need to make tough decisions, this doesn’t automatically lead to knowing all the answers. 


Very often, it can mean going on a journey to figure the answers out. Even the most robust conscious leadership training and experience can leave them exposed to knowledge gaps.


Avoid doing it all yourself


Many leaders increase their anxiety levels through not feeling they can ask for help, not giving themselves enough time and space to think, and not feeling safe to admit they are still learning. They might recognise the need for a leadership and management development programme, but that doesn’t mean they think they have time for one. 


Being a healthy leader is about how you show up and the positive impact you have on the people around you. It’s not about having all the answers and always making the right moves. You often get promoted to a leadership position because you’ve been good at coming up with solutions. 


After all, for many of those in a leadership position, that’s how they gained their credibility. 


The problem with keeping that same mindset when you become a leader is that not only do you stress yourself out, but you also don’t foster an environment where others feel they can contribute.


Expecting that you should be superhuman — or the naivety to think that you already are — is counterproductive to leadership. Not only because putting yourself under that much stress can seriously impact your wellbeing, but because it sets a standard for your people that is unrealistic too. And that can also affect their wellbeing.


Striving for perfection is stressful, not least because your inner critic will give you a bashing every time you fall short of your own expectations. And yet, leadership training consistently overlooks this vital component. Without being aware of your limitations, your productivity, management skills and overall effectiveness in a leadership position are reduced.


The power of a growth mindset in a leadership position


When leaders know they are still developing and have a lot to learn, it sets a different tone for the team. It also creates a mindset shift that leads to more productive and positive behaviour. Creating a safe environment where people feel they have space to grow and develop and they don’t always have to be right or constantly impress leads to a more human and real way of working. 


This psychological safety means people can more openly express themselves, be more willing to experience new things, think more freely, and commit more of themselves. It also means less back covering and unnecessary competition.


Carol Dweck said that leaders with a growth mindset “believe their talents and those of others can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) and they tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”


The simple fact is that having a growth mindset in any leadership position makes it easier (and even habitual) to spot new opportunities. These leaders learn to recognise the potential in their best team members, smash traditional silos that cause work roadblocks and look for collaborative solutions to challenges. 


The fact is, when you have a growth mindset, you are less bothered about looking clever and proving that you always make the best decisions. Always knowing the correct answer is impossible, no matter how much traditional leadership training you’ve had. When you know that you are fallible and that life is an ongoing learning journey, it shows humility. And leaders need that humility if they want to build trust with others. Trusting your team empowers them, and tomorrow's leaders will be those that empower others today. 


Knowing your limitations also helps you to:


  • Become more tolerant
  • Allow people to make mistakes
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Feel more comfortable in your own skin
  • Create an environment where people want to help each other
  • Open your mind to different ways of doing things
  • Embrace the talents of others
  • Allow people to help you
  • Praise others for the work they do.


What are you scared of?


Very often, we become fixed minded as we’re trying to protect ourselves or our status. This can be seen as arrogance, overconfidence or closed-mindedness, which employees don't like in their leaders for obvious reasons. You must be confident as a leader, but the supposed arrogance that comes with knowing you’re right or believing you’ve got the best answers can lead to a breakdown in trust. At worst, it can lead to apathy and disengagement.


The ironic thing is that leaders often feel like frauds, and so what comes across as confidence or arrogance is, in fact, a cover-up act. Imposter syndrome is widespread for a reason. Our insecurities drive our behaviour, and it leads to leaders avoiding asking for help when they need it. It leads to perfectionism, which leads to a lack of workflow and an increase in workplace conflicts.


Facing the facts when you are in a leadership role


Many in leadership positions don't even recognise this need to be the superhuman leader with answers to everything. They don’t want to appear like they don’t know what they’re doing, and they don’t want a high-tech leadership development platform to identify the fact that they’re not good enough to lead others.


The mental hurdle to overcome is to recognise these fundamental truths:


  1. Showing humility is a sign of wisdom and strength, not weakness.
  2. Leaders don’t need all the answers; they need to create an environment where the answers can be found.
  3. Leaders who support continuous learning are more productive and have more productive teams.
  4. When we are stressed, our threat response is more likely to be triggered and create closed-minded and unhelpful thinking.


Questions to ask yourself


Delegations of authority are critical in a healthy workspace. Nobody in a leadership position can (or should be expected to) know everything, and the combination of self-care and self-knowledge has always been at the heart of leadership. If you’re stressing yourself out and feeling like burnout is close, ask yourself these questions:


  1. Do you see yourself as superhuman? If so, why?
  2. Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? If not, why not?
  3. How often do you ask your team what the answer should be?
  4. How often do you ask your team if you can help them?
  5. How comfortable do you feel to say, “I don’t know the answer.” when challenged?
  6. Do you ever ask for help? If not, why not?


Take the time to reflect on these questions. Talk to your team to see if they would answer those questions about you differently. Learn more about yourself and the too-high expectations that you’ve set yourself. This isn’t about avoiding your responsibilities as someone in a leadership position. It’s about understanding more about how those in a position of leadership should act.


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