Certainty is a feeling. So rather than seeking more certainty, leaders had better choose consciously what certainties will serve their own well-being, their vision, and those they lead.
When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe it. I felt certain about many things, and they seemed true to me. But this new insight allowed me to dismantle limiting beliefs and choose more empowering ones.
So how is certainty an emotion?
Here’s the anatomy of how a belief is born and how it turns into certainty. I’ll use an example that troubles most of the leaders I encounter in 1:1 coaching and in team development.
At the core of certainty is a simple idea
That idea turns into a belief if you feel that it’s true. It takes an emotionally charged event to have you turn an idea into a belief. In other words, you experience either pleasure or pain and that has you attach meaning to an event. The newly formed belief then informs your future actions as you seek to create more of the pleasure or to avoid more of the pain.
Say, as you grew up, your mother gave your father feedback and it turned into an argument. That’s when you first formed the idea that feedback turns into an argument. And you might have attached a belief to it: To avoid painful conflict, you better avoid giving someone feedback. You only did that, because you experienced your parent’s conflict as painful and as a threat. Note, that your brother might have taken that same interaction between your parents as a fight, followed by a reconciliation. And he might have made nothing more of it, not attaching any meaning to the feedback at all.
You go through life looking for evidence to back up your belief
You, however, started going through life, looking through the lens of that painful experience. You started to notice every time when feedback lead to conflict. On the other hand, you didn’t even notice when someone gave feedback, and it did not end up being conflictual or emotional. You ignored instances, where feedback led to dialogue and that dialogue led to a deeper relationship. Or you came up with reasons why in this case it worked, but for you it would not.
Leaders, like all humans, seek to avoid pain or to gain pleasure
After your formative years, you’ve taken this belief into your professional career. As you’ve climbed up the ranks and lead others, you still tried to avoid giving feedback. And ever so often it becomes a problem for you. Perhaps the annual performance review is coming closer, and this is when you confide into your coach:
You are dreading that conversation, because it’s the moment of truth! You’ll have to give honest feedback to explain to the other why they will not be promoted this year. You need to give evidence for not giving them the appraisal they expect from you. You’re sure there will be conflict, disappointment, emotions – and this time you’re dead right.
Funnily, rather than breaking your limiting belief about feedback, this event deepens it, if you let it! Your belief turns it into a conviction! After all, you have collected enough painful evidence of getting hurt when giving someone feedback.
Your conviction is so strong that you’ll resist any evidence to the contrary. That’s why you have to act as soon as you realise that you have a belief that’s in the way of your creating the results and relationships that you want.
How to overcome the belief that feedback brings conflict and messy emotions
As a coach, one of the challenges I hear most often is the fear of giving feedback, and the fear that not giving it will also backfire.
Say you feel that it’s true that feedback leads to painful repercussions for you. In that case, no matter how much feedback coaching you’ll get, you will shy away from taking action.
My first step is not to go into one of the feedback models. Instead, I help my coachees uncover the fears that hold them back from giving feedback. And while the fear of conversations going sideways and getting emotional is true for them all, the flavour of what sideways means is personal and specific.
From there, it is simple.
Everyone can shed beliefs
One way of doing so is to run very small, fail-safe experiments of giving feedback and taking notes of how it went. That gives you evidence whether your fear is sometimes, often or not at all backed up by the evidence.
This process works every time! I get such excited messages from coachees who’ve started to give people a little feedback here and there. They experience first hand that it does not harm their relationships. On the contrary, it can deepen trust, and it takes a load off their shoulders.
To come back to the beginning: The beliefs you choose as a leader make or break how effective you are.
What beliefs help you produce the results you want?
List the beliefs
– about yourself
– about your leadership
– about people in general
– about specific co-workers
– about productivity
– about time.
And what beliefs hold you back?
To create the results that you want, turn those beliefs that make you effective into convictions. And destroy the beliefs that hold you back.
To go through that process in the trusted space of a 1:1 coaching is elating, because it is so very freeing.
To go through it as a group or a team can be a lot of fun, because when we look at each other’s beliefs, we notice what ridiculous beliefs all of us carry around. And marvelling at the shared craziness of life is truly connecting.
Most of all, it’s liberating to know that you are not alone, and that you are at choice.