A reporter once asked me whether the FBI provides textbooks for an agent to study so they can become a strong leader. The answer is no; FBI agents are expected to face their challenges head-on — no one sugarcoats the reality of their situation.
My fellow agents and I learned that mental strength is not something you are born with. It is something you can learn. If I learned it, so can you, but only if you’re willing to put in the discipline and effort it takes.
As an entrepreneur or business owner, you need to think big and act courageous. You need the fierce determination that comes from being a strong leader. Core beliefs about yourself and your abilities will guide your daily decisions.
6 practical reasons why you are not a strong leader:
1. Clueless about what brings you value and meaning in life
A strong leader lives their life with purpose and meaning. They are an active participant in where their life is going. They set overarching goals for the direction they want to go in life.
Most people agree that Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” is the preeminent authority on how to find meaning in life. After liberation from a concentration camp, he spent his life as an advocate for the importance of meaning as a salve against suffering, and the secret to joy.
Frankl believed that meaning cannot be pursued as a goal in itself. It must be a side-effect in the pursuit of other goals. Value and meaning in life blossom not when we pursue them directly, but when we seek beauty, love, and justice.
How To Make It Work For You: Embrace activities that connect you with something greater than yourself. Connect with others in the pursuit of knowledge. Commit yourself to the care of others through volunteer work. Find ways to express love to people or animals.
2. Remain ignorant about your blind spots
A strong leader understands that they need to frequently and critically analyze their performance, especially their failures. When they do, they identity those patterns of behavior that are not productive and nip them in the bud. Unfortunately, “teachable moments” are usually accompanied by feelings of frustration, disappointment, and embarrassment.
Psychologists find that we tend to repeat the same mistake, and repeat it in endless ways. That is the definition of a blind spot. Leaders like to avoid words like failure and defeat because they feel the need to appear invincible. Ironically, this need to appear strong is the very thing that holds them back.
How To Make It Work For You: Take a moment to think back to a situation that didn’t go so well for you. Notice what went on for you at this time. What were the circumstances? How did you respond? What skills might have been helpful? Have you been in similar circumstances before? Did they turn out well? If not, how would you respond in a different way next time?
3. Fail to prepare for setbacks
A strong leader accepts the fact that life evolves and is smart enough to plan for the downturns that are inevitable. Only fools think they’re immune to setbacks and fail to prepare for what can go wrong.
A strong leader always anticipates what can go wrong and then prepares for it. This is not negative thinking — it’s intelligent thinking.
FBI agents do not focus on what will go right in an arrest. They focus on what can go wrong so they are prepared.
How To Make It Work For You: Always ask these questions in every situation: What can go wrong? What if this doesn’t work? How can we stop it? What haven’t we thought about?
4. Feel the need to be an expert
A strong leader has a beginner’s mind that does not need to prove or disprove anything. The leader has the humility to hold “what I do know” alongside “what I don’t know.” Holding this kind of tension leads to wisdom and not just easy answers.
When we allow ourselves the luxury of trial and error, like a child learning to walk, we experience a feel-good neurological response. Similarly, when we tackle new and difficult challenges, we experience a rush of adrenaline, a hormone that makes us feel confident and motivated.
A recent article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports a series of experiments that show experts are more likely to be closed-minded. An open mind is receptive to new ideas that knock loose previous beliefs and standards.
How To Make It Work For You: Let go of the idea that you need to be an expert. Instead, ask questions because they are at the heart of a beginner’s mind. Start a petri dish of things of which you know nothing. Force yourself to seek out the advice of those who are more experienced. Always be involved in a project or situation where you are a beginner.
5. Refuse to keep ego in check
A strong leader must believe in themselves — otherwise, no one else will. They must believe in their own abilities and they need to be resilient, but often this self-assurance leads to arrogance. Poor decisions are made when they allow their ego to speak louder than their voice of reason.
The ego is always asking “How will this make me look? How will I benefit?” When ego is not kept in check, it looks for ways to prove it’s right and others are wrong. When we remove ego, we’re left with humility and rock-hard confidence.
How To Make It Work For You:
- Accept praise, but never believe it totally. While others may appreciate your work, you can always do better.
- Things are never permanent. You might be in the news today, but tomorrow you’ll be forgotten.
- Put yourself in other people’s shoes and try to understand what they’re thinking.
- Spend time in nature to find perspective. It’s okay if other people think you’re God, but you’re in trouble if you start believing it, too.
6. Have a coward’s heart
A strong leader has the courage to move out of their comfort zone even though they may feel awkward, clumsy, and alone. The comfort zone is defined as an anxiety-neutral place that uses a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance.
When we get into a comfort zone, we often strive to stay right there — where we have found success. But it is the average leader who stops at success, because success and peak performance are often two different things. Whole lives are spent reinforcing mediocre performance.
“Mental toughness is believing you will prevail in your circumstances, rather than believing that your circumstances will change” — LaRae Quy
How To Make It Work For You: Take what worked for you in the past and modify it to match your new situation. Chances are good that this is not the first time you’ve adapted when you’ve moved into the unknown. Write down your survival tactics and why they worked. Mine your experiences and let them guide you as you move out of a comfort zone in your current circumstances.