Sometimes, success comes not from what you learn to do but what you learn to stop doing.
That bit of wisdom comes from Sandja Brügmann, serial entrepreneur and founder of the Passion Institute, a recently launched online educational program and consultancy for executives and entrepreneurs.
“Once we have developed understanding of how we interfere with our visions and goals, then comes the challenging process of unlearning and changing specific behaviors,” she explains.
Unlearning is hard work. “It requires one to move out of automatic behaviors and into conscious understanding, where we take control of our own actions and lives,” Brügmann says. “It requires confronting uncomfortable feelings and an attentive vision for a different business life.”
In fact, she says, it takes many of the same skills that entrepreneurs need to succeed in their businesses. “It’s a real act of self-love at a deep level,” she says. It’s also what you need to do to become a transformational leader.
What are some of the behaviors we all need to unlearn to become effective leaders? Here are the ones Brügmann says she encounters most often.
The need to please others comes from fear of not being good enough and fear of being rejected, Brügmann explains. “We engage in pleasing behavior in order to feel that we are OK or loved, but ultimately to make ourselves feel safe,” she says.
This is a behavior even experienced executives often need to unlearn, she adds. It’s a matter of striking the balance between giving too much and giving too little. “It is a learning process to find the middle ground, where giving comes from a centered and whole place — the only place where it can truly be of value to yourself and others,” she says. We need to start by “filling ourselves up,” building both self-confidence and self-care skills.
“It requires a deep understanding that we are good enough and worthy of love and belonging,” Brügmann says. “From there, we are able to truly become caring, giving, and serving leaders, and make a positive impact in our companies and the world at large.”
2. Being fuzzy about boundaries.
“Most people need to learn to create better, healthier boundaries,” Brügmann says. Many of her students need to unlearn the belief that saying no is an unkind thing to do. “In truth, learning to say a clean and kind no is a key foundational skill to successful leadership,” she says. “For many of our entrepreneurs, it’s a big aha! moment when they learn that saying no is in fact saying yes to yourself — taking your own business dreams and visions seriously.”
Loose, fuzzy boundaries create dysfunctional organizations, she adds. “Learning to create healthy boundaries and communicating them with empathy and kindness creates clarity, safety, security, and order,” she says. “A good leader sets a clear framework for everyone in order to set his or her entire team up for success.”
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3. Not speaking your mind.
“Holding back from saying your truth not only creates festering and negative emotions inside the withholder, but also deteriorates relationships and weakens the health of your organization over time,” Brügmann says. This is why unlearning this behavior, and understanding that it benefits no one, is crucial.
It’s not necessarily easy, she adds. “It takes courage and the willingness to learn new assertive communication skills, as well as relational management skills,” she says. “Leaders who do learn these things are exceptionally successful at driving their organizations forward.”
4. Avoiding failure.
This is the surest way to kill success, Brügmann says. “Many people have a desire for success and fulfilling their dreams but an unwillingness to fail — or rather a desire to avoid experiencing the painful feelings that can accompany perceived failure,” she says.
Getting over this resistance to failure means moving away from the notion that you are a bad person if you aren’t able to create the successful company you envisioned. “Instead, it’s better to think of failure as the procrastinating behavior that fear holds us in when we never take the chance to live our dreams,” Brügmann says. “Real failure is not taking our inner yearnings seriously enough to try creating them for ourselves.”
5. Letting fear hold you back.
“Fear is a natural human emotion, and we all experience it,” Brügmann says. The difference between people who take control of their lives and those who don’t is that the former have learned to cope with and take control of certain fears — which takes a lot of inner work. “It requires self-awareness, willpower, perseverance, resiliency, and a large dose of courage,” she adds. “Entrepreneurial pursuits are not for the faint of heart.”
6. Negative thinking.
“When something bad happens and we attribute negative meaning to it about ourselves, we may be heading for a downward spiral,” Brügmann warns. “That’s something we most definitely want to unlearn.”
The solution is to take control of our own thought patterns, she says. For example, no one likes to hear no from a potential client or investor. However, if it does happen, it doesn’t mean that your project is bad or that your idea isn’t a good one.
“It probably has nothing to do with you as a person,” Brügmann says. “Don’t overanalyze it. Don’t make it mean anything positive or negative about you.” No one client or potential investor is the single key to happiness forever, she adds — there’s always someone else to pitch. “Think about what your next move will be to achieve your goal,” she says.
7. Getting really, really busy.
“Unfortunately, it’s a common modern-day myth that being busy or having a packed schedule is equivalent to being a person of importance,” Brügmann says. “Gaining self-value and worth solely on the basis of being busy is a dangerous and self-sabotaging behavior that leads to, if anything, a deeper disconnect from your passion, purpose, and true fulfillment.”
Too often, she adds, people start unlearning this behavior only after a major stressor, or perhaps after someone they love leaves them. “Learning to slow way down can be very difficult for some people, especially those who live in overdrive,” she says. “Focusing on stillness, silence, and solitude, however, can be the doorway toward a deeper connection with self. It’s also called getting off the hamster wheel.”
8. Looking for your power outside yourself.
“At the center of the storm is calm. Find your steady and centered place within yourself, and stay here as much as possible,” Brügmann advises. That calm place will give you self-confidence and allow you to stay committed to your long-term goals in spite of the short-term ups and downs of business and life.
“If your well-being, peace, and happiness depend on external factors, your level of stress will be too high to successfully stay on the entrepreneurial path for very long,” she predicts. Instead, she recommends trying to stay somewhat detached from external events. “You’ll be able to make better decisions for a larger good,” she says, “instead of just relieving short-term stress or fear.”