06 Aug

Leadership Mindset: Getting Out Of Your Own Way

When I am coaching leaders and high achievers regarding their executive presence I hear of the same obstacle over and over again. In fact it always comes up in the very first conversation we have – although they do not realize it or recognize it. Because I have coached so many people I can immediately detect it in the way they explain their frustrations or lack of confidence in achieving personal or professional goals. As I quietly listen I can also hear what they aren’t saying – as they talk around the subject without directly addressing it. But the major obstacle is the same with each and every one of them: their own mindset.

Many leaders constantly sabotage their own professional and personal growth by simply getting in their own way. Are you perhaps creating unconscious obstructions on the path to a higher level position, a greater salary, more visibility within the organization, or “celebrity status” as a recognized expert in your industry? We are all susceptible to this insidious phenomenon, so let’s take a look at three fundamental self-limiting forces that often prevent people from experiencing the success they want and deserve. Learn to spot them and you’ll be able to start eliminating them.

1) Negative Self-Talk

One way we impede our own success is by having negative internal conversations in our heads. These conversations can happen anytime, but usually they occur when you are under stress or out of your comfort zone. They often take place when someone is meeting with a new prospect, interviewing for a top-level position, or asked to accept greater responsibility in the leadership spotlight. If you were to download the audio soundtrack of your internal conversations to your iPod, what would you hear? Chances are you’d hear insecurities expressed like this:

  • What if I am not as good as the competition?
  • What if I fail at this new appointment?
  • What if my new team doesn’t respect me?
  • What if I am too old to be a dynamic leader?

Stop playing the “what if” game. Yes, every successful leader has had these types of deep internal conversations over the historical timeline of their career. But the really extraordinary leaders quickly learn to embrace change – even when it makes them uncomfortable to experience exponential growth and transformation. They quickly become attuned to listen for the negative chatter. When they begin to hear that old familiar mental recording they instantly interrupt with positive dialog. They extinguish the negativity and erase the destructive language from their internal vocabulary. Train yourself to listen for that negative channel and when you hear it, simply change the channel and replace the content with positive messages like:

  • I am confident that I am as good as my competition.
  • I know that without a doubt I am going to be highly successful in this new appointment.
  • I feel humbled that my team respects me as the leader.
  • I have a wealth of life experience that contributes to my being a dynamic leader.

2) Beliefs Don’t Always Equal Truth

As business leaders we all have particular belief systems that we have adopted as the gospel truth. I can remember, for example, that when I was an executive manager at Macy’s there was one person who was always full of negativity. Their influence on our senior team meetings was having a detrimental impact on the morale of everyone.

When I spoke privately to this executive about his negative perspective he said to me, “Sarah, you are asking me to be someone I am not. My parents were always negative and that’s just who I am.”

I simply replied, “No, that’s not who you are – it’s who you are allowing yourself to be.” I can still see his face when I gave him that golden nugget of advice. He had never before entertained the idea that maybe the belief system he had inherited from his parents and held onto from childhood was false and could be changed for the better.

Just like so many other executives who see themselves as negative Ned or Nettie, we have developed a negative mindset and we identify with it as part of our overall management style or problem-solving system. People have told us for years that we learn our behaviors, habits, and patterns during our early developmental years and this is true. But what makes us think that we can’t break with the past to change this type of negative behavior? Because changing our perspective is hard and feels uncomfortable until it becomes a new leadership habit, I love what Dr. Wayne Dyers said: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I interpret this to mean that when you change your outlook on your professional and personal life and begin to see it unfold through a positive lens, positive internal transformation begins. You start to lead a more extraordinary life. Seeing the glass half full versus half empty is not about who we are; it’s about how we have decided to interpret our experience. It’s a personal choice, so why not choose the high road in life if you are tired of feeling stuck in a rut?

3) Are You Thinking Too Small?

When you think about your career journey are you thinking gigantic or timidly small? Many leaders or high achievers don’t think big enough, so they continue to plod along in unremarkable careers wondering why they haven’t accomplished more. I encourage all my clients to think big and cultivate a large vision of possibility and potential. There is a really big dream that lives deep down in your consciousness. Maybe you’ve kept it a secret from your friends, family members, bosses, and significant other because you assume they would consider it preposterous. You can keep it to yourself, but don’t diminish it – let it grow!

I have always been a big thinker when it comes to my career. I remember when I began my tenure with Macy’s in the accounting department how much I loved the excitement of the retail environment and yearned to become a store manager. But people around me in the corporate environment told me I was a support executive and that I would never be able to switch into the stores division. But I didn’t let them keep me from dreaming. I was a big thinker, I didn’t agree with their logic, and I was determined to show them.

I did tell my colleagues and family members about my dream, because I wanted to start to manifest it. While I knew that it would take several years to realize this dream, it was still my constant guiding compass. I used it as my landmark to help me make the right decisions along the way as I stayed true to my big vision and followed my career roadmap one step at a time. Then one day when I was moving to Chicago for personal reasons, my dream came true. I was told that I was going to be a store manager in training until a position become available. Within six short months I was basking in the limelight of my dream as a full-fledged store manager. I can still vividly remember that day and how thrilled I was. The point is that you should think big and create an immense realm of possibility that allows you to become whomever and whatever you want to be, without compromise or limitation.

By overcoming destructive self-talk and limiting belief systems you remove yourself from standing in the way of your own personal growth. I’ve personally experienced it and I can tell you that overcoming your unwanted mindset – and adopting a supportive and positive one – is a process that anyone can start that quickly and naturally leads to dramatic change. I’ve worked with many leaders to help them embrace this kind of internal transformation and I’ve seen how it impacts their executive presence and takes them to a whole new level of leadership capability.


As a pioneering and visionary innovator, Sarah is a certified professional image consultant and brand strategist, speaker, trainer and author. Her company, Illustra Consulting, provides leading-edge image and brand management strategies for top leaders and high achievers who wish to take their career to the next level. She also delivers innovative and inspiring corporate workshops to assist large organizations in strengthening their corporate brand.

Illustra Consulting
Copyright © 2013, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

1-800-267-3245, [email protected]
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Sarah Hathorn
Sarah Hathorn, CEO of Hathorn Consulting Group, is the go-to-expert in working with leaders and companies to create successful corporate DNA. As an executive coach, consultant and speaker she collaborates globally with clients and brands such as Kimberly-Clark, Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot and other leading organizations.
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Copyright © 2020, Sarah Hathorn, All rights reserved.
800-267-3245, [email protected]

This article may be reproduced only in its entirety, including the above bio.
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