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Breaking down the built-in barriers holding you back

Woman with sledge hammer

I’m lucky to work with smart, successful people who want to play a bigger game. They have set goals and have already achieved a good deal of success — yet they know there is a new level of success they are meant to achieve.

When we discuss and craft a big goal that really gets them excited, we often discover there is a barrier in the way. Otherwise, they would already have achieved their goal.

That barrier can take many forms:

  • "I'm great at driving results, but I hate handling the people issues."
  • "I will make enemies if I step out in this way."
  • "I'd love to delegate more, but I don't trust my team to get it done as well."

But here's the interesting part: the barrier that you see is usually the key to your big breakthrough. It's probably something that you've repeatedly come up against. It's very likely the thing that, if you handled it, would transform your leadership and your life.

Let me give you an example. A company leader wanted me to "fix" one of his senior vice presidents who was super smart, but known for his quick temper and steamroller management style. Employees were leaving the company because he demoralized people, and despite HR getting involved, it wasn’t getting better.

This leader knew the situation had to be fixed for the company — but she wanted someone else to handle it.

The truth was, she didn't think he was very good at handling this sort of thing. She was the strategy person and the results-driver, not the touchy-feely person. Except now that touchy-feely stuff was impacting results, and the only one this SVP would listen to and respect was the leader.

Believe to achieve

As we dug deeper, I was not surprised to find this belief — and the avoidance behavior it drove — showed up in other aspects of this executive's life too.

When you hear yourself offering up a well-worn reason for why you can't achieve what you really want or avoiding doing something that you know needs to be done, ask yourself this question: "Is that true for everyone?"

If not, that means it is possible to handle. It is possible to learn how to do.

The follow-up question is "What would someone have to believe about themselves to achieve this?"

In the case of this executive, she realized she'd been operating with some really old mental models about her ability to deal with conflict, and it was time for an update. When she learned how to do this over several months, her leadership style and her family life were transformed for the better.

Doing this work takes courage. It means being willing to risk looking imperfect or even a bit clumsy at first, in service to the goal.

You have to be resourceful and trust in your ability to learn and to get help until you're good at it.

No one bats 1,000. But those with the best batting averages work and work at it, despite setbacks. What was once a weakness becomes a strength.

And the most important thing you learn is not only are you capable of overcoming that particular barrier, you're able to transform your belief about handling any future "barrier" that holds the key to your next level of fulfillment.

Christy Consler is founder and CEO of Sustainable Leadership Advisors Inc. She previously served in senior leadership roles at Jamba Juice and Safeway.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.