July 30, 2018

Dealing with challenges with an outward mindset

Becoming a leader is hard, but remaining in the position and acquiring all the necessary capabilities is even more challenging.

Traditionally, we assume that the boss knows best. Bosses are in those positions because they not only know what to do, they know the best way to do it. And in the past it was often true as disruption didn’t happen nearly as quickly, and the experience people gathered over a career almost always stayed relevant as they became leaders and bosses.

Unfortunately, although the pace of change has increased rapidly, most of us have not adjusted our expectations of our leaders accordingly. Many of us still expect our leaders to have all the answers. Many leaders feel that “not knowing” is a sign of weakness.

But it is unfair to burden leaders with the expectation that they must know everything, when rapid changes in technology, communication and data mean that no one person can possibly “know” everything. Not anymore.

The truth is, leaders have a lot to worry about on a daily basis. After all, they are humans too, which means that they can make mistakes and are facing challenges and being judged, sometimes unfairly, just like everybody else.

The question is, when they experience challenges, mistreatment, or suffering, how do they choose to respond?

Frankly speaking, suffering is an inevitability of life, regardless of your position or title. Problems, challenges, unfairness, mistreatment and impediments to progress characterise much of our work and personal experience. What’s more, people sometimes act with malevolent intent. News reports, history, and personal experience are full of examples of the ill-intended and harmful actions of people across the globe.

According to the Arbinger Institute, there are certain behaviour types that can make all this misfortune and malevolence even worse, but before we delve into the details, let’s remind ourselves of the two types of mindsets that we use to see the world, which essentially affect our behaviours.

The inward mindset is a singular focus, predominantly on one’s own self and one’s personal objectives; seeing others more as “objects” and less as humans, based on self-deception.

Self-deception is a process of denying or rationalising away the relevance, significance or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. It happens when we see the world only from our point of view and it generally involves convincing ourselves of a truth (or lack of truth) and thus becoming blind to any self-knowledge of the deception.

The real problem is that most of the time people don’t even realise they have a problem. This symptom is called “insistent-blindness” or the inability to see that one has a problem.

On the other hand, the outward mindset is a focus on being accountable and supportive of the goals of others and those of the entire organisation; seeing others as “people”. This mindset describes a mentality wherein the individual is focusing on collective success and well-being of others by being helpful, responsible, and eager to make a real impact.

Now, the inevitable suffering of life can be made exponentially worse by confronting it from an inward mindset. This is because when we have an inward mindset, as mentioned, we are self-focused. We see merely our own problems, challenges and needs, and we tend to blame those problems on others.

In short, this mindset is characterised by blame, self-deception and self-justification, excusing one from personal responsibility. This leads us to allowing ourselves to wallow in our victimhood, carrying our hurt around with us long after the original incident. We allow ourselves to be weighed down by the injustices we have experienced or perceived.

In contrast, with an outward mindset, we do not blame others for our challenges. We may acknowledge misbehaviour, mistreatment or injustice, but we do not wallow in our victimhood in the same cyclical, self-excusing, self-justifying ways that we do with an inward mindset.

Besides, an outward mindset allows us to see challenges as opportunities to learn about our own “inward mindset red flags” and develop our ability to turn outward when everything seems to be inviting us inward.

In the most ideal scenario in which our lives were perfect, we could remain inward all the time and never know or care. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect — and an outward mindset lets us make the most of its imperfections.

Last but not least, the Arbinger Institute suggests that we will eventually and inevitably experience challenges and injustices in one way or another. We can choose to develop an inward mindset of self-tyranny, or leverage the challenge to become outward-looking in order to deal with challenges. That is your choice. After all, an outward mindset begins with you.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre.  She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa

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