Leadership Lies

Leadership Lies

In the past 25 years, few works of literature have achieved the same level of popularity as the Harry Potter series. Over the stretch of seven books, we witness the adventures of a young wizard and his friends as they gear up to fight and defeat the evil that threatens their world. 

On many days, I long to be a good wizard, one that can cast simple spells to overcome evil and bring about good. Harry, though destined to save the wizarding world, is really just like you or me. He gets scared, overwhelmed, and anxious. Sometimes he thinks he is not cut out for the job. He fails before he succeeds. Though the crises that Harry faces involve magic spells, dragons, and wizards; they are not altogether that different from our own. At its core, a crisis is a sudden and unexpected change that impacts the flow of life. It is an obstacle to important life goals that is not easily dealt with. 

Times of crisis or challenge often shed light on areas of doubt that we may typically avoid in daily life. As leaders, we can be tempted to give into false beliefs regarding who we are, what we can accomplish, or why we would fail. I am talking about you and me, my kids in college, a coach, a boss, a mother, an entry level employee. We all have lies we tell ourselves, in good times, but especially when things get hard, as they have in the past few months. 

I recently spent some time with one of my personal coaches in life, my personal Dumbledore type person.  I was experiencing a special hardship and I kept going over this negative narrative in my mind, a false narrative.  My wise friend looked at me and said “Yasser, you have got to stop your mind from making a reality out of what seems to be a lie.” 

These lies include things like:

  • I should always take a defensive posture and play defense with my business. 
  • In times of crisis, we should just cut costs across the board—whether we need to or not, because cutting costs is the best way to survive as a business. 
  • I am what I’m worth monetarily. The market is down, and my financial value is also down, therefore, my social value and my success is also down. 
  • I can’t change roles at home or at my job during this time because I will not be good enough. Going outside my regular role will lead to an unproductive struggle.
  • I am defined by people’s opinions of me, and in times of crisis, I need to win the approval of others. If people think poorly of me, I am nothing.
  • The problem is bigger than me and there’s not much I can do. I believe that I am not enough to deal with this challenge.  
  • We’re too far removed from this, things won’t get that bad. If I pretend that this is not something I will have to face, this will not impact me.
  • We are too big and strong, this won’t affect us. At our company size, nothing can hurt us or have a terrible impact on us. 
  • The crisis will be resolved if we find out who is at fault and blame them. We grow up with the idea that when something bad happens, there is a judgment. My Catholic upbringing identifies the culprit, the guilty party, and it’s usually not me.

As leaders, it is vital that we do not buy into any of these myths. 

James is a friend and executive in his mid forties who has recently been dealing with the crisis related to COVID-19. He leads a manufacturing company that provides equipment to the building and real estate industry. Outside of work, he is married with two children, both of whom are in high school. He must also assist his aging parents who live several hours away. 

In recent days, he has especially become susceptible to believing lies about who he is and his  leadership in and out of work. During our time, we cried, laughed, and most importantly, we listed all the lies that were floating in his mind.  

Here are some takeaways: 

  1. James and I together had to Admit that there are lies or myths he believes about himself, and that these lies are not true and not productive. That requires tremendous humility and is a painful process. 
  2. After James acknowledged these lies, he needed to Identify the reasons why each false lie or myth has come about.  That again is a painful process, much like identifying the source of an infection in a wound.  
  3. James finally had to be committed to intentionally refuting or Debunking them. We scripted them out and recited them.  He agreed to do that initially daily, then weekly.  

What about you?  What lies or myths have you come to believe about yourself or do you face during times of crisis or change?  Remember this simple process:  AID –  Admit, Identify, Debunk 

Yasser Youssef is the president of The Budd Group, one of the leading facility service companies in the country, a North Carolina-based company that provides facility support services in the Southeast. Throughout his career, Youssef has met leaders from all backgrounds, and believes leadership is for everyone. Over the past few years, he has developed an affinity for writing and contributing thought leadership, and is often asked to speak to businesses throughout the country about authentic leadership.

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