Do your beliefs help you move forward as a leader, or are any holding you back from achieving your peak potential?
Greg is a 32-year-old senior project engineer for a successful civil/geotechnical engineering firm in California. Like many in the industry, he is ambitious, driven and extremely hard-working. Greg loves being involved in his projects, which typically include everything from pre-construction through project closeout. While he is undoubtedly intelligent and successful, his manager, Bill, has heard some troubling feedback about the young man.
Greg always gets the job done, typically with great efficiency and effectiveness, but others do not seem to like working with him. He has been called pompous, arrogant and abrasive by coworkers, designers and subcontractors. On the other side, clients seem to love him for his straightforward, honest approach.
Bill sees Greg as a potential superstar within the firm — his potential is nearly unlimited, except for the fact that the field and the design team continually grumble about working with him. This has perplexed Bill, because he has never seen any of these negative traits in his interactions with Greg. As the complaints mount, Bill decides that Greg needs to change his behavior before he can move up in the organization. Ideally, Bill would like to get an external perspective on the situation.
IDENTIFYING A WORLDVIEW
We have seen situations similar to this countless times in our clients. In Greg’s case, his greatest strengths — his ambition, his drive and his tenacity — are also what are creating his biggest weaknesses: that he is full of himself, abrasive and difficult to work with. The question in this case is how to help Greg modify his behavior without losing the great characteristics that make him so effective. Traditionally, Bill could send Greg to training to help him learn the right techniques, tips and approaches to interact effectively with others. While training may be helpful, the lessons learned are not likely to “stick” long term. In reality, the root causes of Greg’s issues go much deeper.
Following a directive from Bill, Greg reluctantly signs up for executive coaching. He recognizes he could always improve, but he points to his bottom-line results as proof that he is not “broken.” He selects Samantha as his coach, although he questions whether he needs help in the first place and how much she can actually help him. In their early sessions, Samantha works to understand the current situation he is in and to help Greg see it clearly himself. Through several sessions and some frank conversation, Greg begins to realize he is alienating those around him. That is troubling to him, because he is not intentionally upsetting people; he is simply trying to get the job done as effectively and efficiently as possible.
As Greg’s coach, Samantha soon realizes that his worldview is holding him back. A worldview is the set of beliefs and assumptions that each person holds consciously and unconsciously about the way the world operates and the way we operate in the world. A worldview is like a pair of sunglasses, meaning it is the filter through which we see the world. Our worldviews are developed from the time we are children and continue to develop as we age. Many factors, such as experiences, culture, surroundings and upbringing, can influence how you view the world. That view of the world shapes what we value, which directly influences our behaviors. Now, for many of us, our worldview may be accurate and it usually causes us no problems. However, we all have certain beliefs and assumptions that may not be true. Our beliefs and assumptions may be holding us back from achieving our peak potential. This seems to be the case with Greg.
In one of their coaching sessions, Samantha asks Greg, “As we talk about your approach at work, it seems like you are very competitive. Is this a personal competition where you always want to better yourself, or is it a competition with those around you?” Greg does not miss a beat. “Oh, it is definitely a competition with those around me. The most important thing I can do every day is prove that I am better than those around me.”
This remark takes Samantha slightly by surprise. She has hit on the root cause of Greg’s current predicament with his co-workers, designers and subcontractors. There is something in his worldview about competition and needing to prove he is better than others that is causing Greg to behave abrasively and noncollaboratively. This may create some positive results for him, because it is likely leading him to work harder, remain dedicated and strive for excellence. However, it is also creating issues with those he works with because he is probably flaunting himself, seeking to prove he is superior to others, which will turn people away from collaborating with him.
EXPLORING YOUR WORLDVIEW
While this scenario may seem severe, it is a common example of how our worldview can sabotage our ability to be effective leaders. We all have aspects of our worldview that are holding us back in some way or another. For Greg, it is an unnecessary desire to prove his own superiority. For others, it might be a fear of conflict, a lack of appreciation for others, or any myriad of beliefs or assumptions that derail their leadership. For example, if a leader has a belief that she cannot trust others, that one belief could have major consequences for her leadership behavior. She will likely avoid any transparency, revealing little about herself and nothing about her weaknesses. Others may see her as closed off and struggle to connect with her, which can cause serious problems in her working relationships. This leader’s worldview might also wrestle greatly with delegation — how can
she give important tasks to people she does not trust? She therefore may have problems with work-life balance and believe she has to do everything herself. One ineffective belief or assumption can create a domino effect of different issues for leaders. That is why it is so important to go beneath the surface and examine our worldviews.
How do you examine your worldview? The process is not easy, simply because we rarely ask ourselves what we believe and whether or not our beliefs are accurate. While this process may feel uncomfortable at first, it can create huge benefits for us as a leader. Similar to the scenario described earlier, one avenue to explore your worldview is with an executive coach, who can provide an outside perspective on your beliefs and assumptions, especially those that may not be valid. You can also explore your worldview by simply asking others for feedback. Is there something they see about your behaviors or actions that you are not aware of that is hurting you as a leader? This view of ourselves through others can certainly identify strengths and weaknesses but is unlikely to surface the root causes without additional conversation by trained parties. We can be self-aware of our behaviors, and a trained coach can help us understand what is driving our behavior.
Lastly, you explore your worldview by looking internally and asking yourself some deep questions about why you behave a certain way or believe something to be true. Here are some questions to ponder:
- What do I believe about the people I work with?
- What is the most important thing I can accomplish each day?
- What do I do when I realize I have made a mistake?
- How do I treat other people?
- How do I deal with conflict?
Consider that last question. Someone might answer, “When I see conflict, I try to avoid it. It makes me uncomfortable.” That answer reveals something about that person’s worldview. If you believe you should avoid conflict, you may be seen as being too easygoing or a “pushover” around others. Something as simple as giving someone constructive feedback about a behavior he or she needs to change requires a certain amount of conflict. Does this person avoid giving constructive feedback, due to his or her fear of conflict? What about when he or she has a differing opinion from that of a teammate? Will he or she push back and challenge the person or meekly give in, simply to avoid a confrontation? Leaders could be significantly more effective if they re-examined their worldviews and came to the realization that some conflict is healthy and to avoid conflict will limit their ability to lead others.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR WORLDVIEW
In regards to Greg, he needs to explore his core belief that he must prove that he is better than others are. One of the questions he can ask himself is, Where did that belief come from? Our worldviews are shaped over time — through the experiences of our childhood, our education, where we grew up geographically, the culture we have been exposed to, our friends, work experiences, travel and much more. It is rare that we have a belief or assumption that did not come from something we experienced or witnessed in the past. At some point in Greg’s life, perhaps he needed to prove his worth to someone. Perhaps he was pushed as a child to be better than others were, and the lesson stuck. Regardless of where it came from, Greg needs to ask himself if that belief is still valid. Does he truly need to prove his superiority to others? Is that an effective way to go through life? If he digs deeply into this worldview, he may gain the insight that this belief is causing him to act in ways that are detrimental to his overall goals. As Greg reflects on his behavior, he recalls times when he highlighted his own successes but others viewed it as bragging. He thinks about the times when he pointed out the failures of others, which they saw as “rubbing it in their faces.” He remembers times when he could have collaborated with others to the benefit of both parties, but instead chose to make it a competition to beat the other people.
CHANGING YOUR BEHAVIOR
Greg’s exploration of the beliefs and assumptions that make up his worldview is not a quick process. For several months, he works closely with Samantha to explore various aspects of his worldview. He recognizes that many of his beliefs and assumptions are valid and they have led to some of his biggest successes. He also recognizes that he does not need to prove his superiority and can still be successful, even while he helps others succeed as well. Over time, Greg begins to modify his behavior, as he slowly changes his worldview on competition at work. He starts to repair the relationship with his co-workers, designers and subcontractors by changing his behavior, communication style and worldview. Bill recognizes a major shift has taken place, even though Greg only altered one belief that he had. Such is the power of examining our worldviews — a small insight can reap major benefits for us as leaders.
Worldview is not a concept that is discussed frequently in business today, but it has the ability to transform the way we approach our co-workers, our organizations and ourselves. Over our lifetimes, we collect a vast array of different experiences, which lead to a number of personal beliefs and assumptions. From time to time, we need to turn our eyes inward and reexamine those beliefs and assumptions, looking for any that may not be true and may be holding us back from achieving our full potential. Through this process, we are continually readjusting our leadership course and ensuring future success as leaders.
If you have not thought much about your worldview, now is the time to start. Use the chart in Exhibit 1 to begin the process of exploring your specific worldview.
What do you believe about the world, your industry, your organization, your team, your co-workers and yourself? Are those beliefs true, or are they simply assumptions you have made? Do your beliefs help you move forward as a leader, or are any holding you back from achieving your peak potential? If there are things holding you back, what can you do to change that belief so that you can be the best possible leader you can be? Closely examine all of these beliefs to begin changing any that are no longer valid, thereby ensuring your future success as a leader.
Tim Tokarczyk is a consultant with FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 303.398.7222 or via email at email@example.com. Kim Morton is an FMI Corporation alumna.