10 Things I Learned In Therapy That Made Me a Better Leader - the-paradigm.com

10 Things I Learned In Therapy That Made Me a Better Leader

May 10, 2022

Kira La Forgia (and the cast of Selling Sunset)

I have been managing people in an in-person setting for nearly decade, and while I have always considered myself to be a leadership “guru”, reading all the books, advocating for all the people, and fangirling over all the LinkedIn psychologists (my personal fave), I never really grasped the importance and impact a good leader can have until a few years ago when I started going to therapy.

Now, this isn’t going to be a sobfest about how hard life is, or even an infomercial to go to therapy yourself. In fact, what I work through and talk about in therapy is generally extremely personal and private.

A few months ago, I started talking with some colleagues in our Set To Scale more and more about the things I had been talking to my therapist about. At this time, some of the most difficult to navigate relationships and feelings were coming up as I was truly embracing this journey as an entrepreneur. Feelings of worth, and value. Moments of overwhelm and uncertainty. And of course, the all important Imposter Syndrome that lives in many of our brains rent free forever. True story: when my therapist brought up the possibility that I WAS worthy of my success and that it could be Imposter Syndrome telling me these stories, my exact words to her were:

“I can’t possibly have Imposter Syndrome… I AM an actual imposter.”

At this (meta) moment, I realized how deep these stories we tell ourselves go. While I always considered therapy a place to help me work through personal and work related issues, I never really considered how compartmentalized I kept my feelings about myself and my professional life. Once I allowed myself to truly see the whole picture of who I am (friend, daughter, sister, wife, professional, coach, consultant, entrepreneur, employee, mentor) as one person as opposed to the fractional pieces of all the things that make me who I am, I saw the parallels between the work I was doing in therapy and the work that happens in the (virtual) office.

You don’t have to know why I learned these lessons, but here’s a shortcut to hopefully help you become a better leader. 😉

  1. I’m not responsible for your feelings, but I am responsible for your experience.

This was a hard one to grasp as an unapologetically stubborn and independent person. I tend to take radical accountability for my own experiences, which admittedly takes an unusual amount of effort, self reflection, and self awareness. Not to say this is what makes me sooo great or anything, but the difference between an employee and an entrepreneur is the freedom to NOT have to carry this weight every day while accomplishing the tasks that make up a job.

Yes, it is true that our most successful, superstar employees often are that way because they take initiative for their experience as well as the quality of their work. But, we cannot expect that people will have the same feelings we do about our situation. We can, however, create a safe environment where our teams can have a good, neutral, experience while working for us.

  1. Accountability is key.

My therapist told me “if two people are responsible for something, then no one is.” and that really stuck with me when creating team structures and managing moving pieces in a small company. Especially when it comes to delegation, we have a tendency to hold on to certain parts of a project or task. This limits the impact that any one individual can have on the quality of the task.

  1. Don’t believe everything you think.

Letting go of the things I “believed” to be true has never been more true than when working with diverse teams with various and sometimes conflicting perspectives. In team management, it can feel like you are Gumby sometimes being pulled in many different directions when hearing different perspective of certain situations.

  1. Easy come, easy go… most of the time.

Where you put your time is often where you yield the best results… Even more than where you invest money. The quality over quantity thing is a hard lesson to learn in every area of life ESPECIALLY when we have Amazon and fast fashion around every corner. Hiring and developing a core group of team members is going to yield a higher level result than putting bandaids on issues and “hacking” your way to success. We hear this a lot in marketing rhetoric regarding investing in yourself and your business, and there is a place for that as well, but I would argue that you will still get a better result if you are putting a minute of focused attention for every dollar you spend on something.

  1. Don’t strive for permanence, strive for the best experience.

We are always looking for THE magic solution. Especially when we are in times of stress, it is human nature to look for the simple, black and white truth of it all. Entrepreneurs with a constant flow of ideas and stressors love a black and white answer. The truth is, the value is in the nuance. It’s not a if/then conversation with other people.

We get to have a developing opinion on a topic, or no opinion at all. We get to have a lot of feelings, or none. We get to decide our level of investment in a situation. We can’t control everything, so we have to embrace the unknown and try to have the best time in the process, and sometimes that means living in the grey area. << hence the whole HR #butmakeitfun thing >>

  1. Is it a boundary, or avoidance?

If you find yourself saying “that’s a boundary” without any context as to why you want to set this boundary, you are creating a situation of avoidance. Actually, setting an intentional boundary is one of the most introspective things you can do. To understand the impact of a boundary, you have to be able to vocalize the impact that actions have on any given situation.

In management, I often see managers shy away from an uncomfortable situation with an employee because of their own limits and boundaries. To which I ask, “why is it important for you to avoid this conversation?” I tend to be a leader who pushes my team into uncomfortable situations, and sure, sometimes I have to pedal back and take the wheel for the psychological safety of my team member. For example, if a client is screaming at my team member, it is not their job to sit there and take it, as part of our code of conduct. It is my job to protect their experience if it is going to cause undue damage to their feelings of safety at work.

As you can imagine, boundaries are a hot topic between my therapist and I, and I have a lot more to say on the matter. I prefer to create an environment that doesn’t call for the evocation of boundaries, but instead a common language and understanding for a supportive and productive environment.

  1. Ego is the enemy.

When I have had to take a look at the failings or falterings of my team or myself, it can be SO hard to look at my feelings and identify their origination as ego driven. Once I learned to recognize when my ego is bruised or I missed a step, it ironically made it a lot easier to get past those situations with my team members, which leads right into…

  1. Admitting you don’t know is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.

When I was learning how to establish myself as a leader, the one thing I knew I could control was the amount of information that I absorbed, understood, and could spew out at a moment’s notice. However, it is impossible to know ALL the answers, and putting that pressure on yourself is a nearly impossible task to keep up with. Instead of spending time trying to have all the answers, default to confidence that you will figure it out, and you will act in integrity along the way.

  1. Confidence is earned.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but the best way to prepare yourself to be a good manager and an effective leader is experience. Being able to recall mistakes you’ve made, and correct them in similar situations is invaluable. The truth is, there is no shortcut to confidence as a manager.

  1. Happiness is a mood, not a personality trait.

It is literally impossible to be happy all the time. Just the same way our nervous systems get raw with overstimulation, constant joy and happiness can be exhausting. Honestly, the fact that “being happy” is a goal of so many people is a travesty. My therapist helped me understand how to reframe a circumstance to create a more favorable experience for myself, my team, or my colleagues.

When it comes to management, there is a theme that small business owners seem to gravitate toward that asks our team members to be positive and happy throughout their experience at work. I have even seen job descriptions that ask for “happy people” to apply and screen their candidates based on the “vibe” they get during the interview.

Summary

Being a good leader isn’t something that you learn from a book, or by subscribing to this blog, or getting all the management training that is available to you. Trying to find ways to hack management will leave you discouraged and without a team to manage. There are a million and one different ways to mess up a management situation, and there are even more ways to do it “right”… whatever that means to you.

Instead of trying to find all the answers, think of the ways in which you can learn and understand more about yourself. Get comfortable with asking yourself why you shy away from certain confrontations, learn to put your ego in check, and join a community that challenges the way you navigate situations with your team, hire the people who don’t look or sound like you.

Want to get the TL;DR of Management Training? Join our next Paradigm Management Foundations course:

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