Remember how your mother used to tell you things growing up, like, "Don't swim after a meal or you'll get indigestion." Whatever mom said, whether it was from her wisdom or an old wive's tale, probably stuck with you to adulthood.

Then, somewhere around your early twenties, you challenged mom's belief system. You went swimming, and no, you did not get indigestion. You were liberated!

As children, we were taught many limiting beliefs. We were told what we could and could not do; which races of people were acceptable and which we were to avoid for our "safety"; how much money we needed to make to be respected; and what kind of mate we needed to marry to live happily ever after.

But as working adults, some things haven't changed. We subscribe to a belief system and worldview that tells us what we need to do to keep up with the Joneses, start a business, get a promotion, sell an idea, make more money, lead a team, and ultimately succeed in life.

And for so many of us, we try, try, and try again, but nothing works the way we planned. So we feel stuck, small, and powerless. We begin to think we're not talented enough, smart enough, wealthy enough, etc.

Your Real Enemies

It may be time to stop railing against your parents, spouses, colleagues, bosses, company, or even country. Your real enemies are the self-defeating thoughts, false expectations, and beliefs that have you thinking you have to continue at the same pace, with the same people, in the same company, or direction in life.

One way to find out if the those limiting beliefs and thoughts holding you hostage are real is to test them. I say this because a healthy belief will stand in the face of challenge. By not testing your belief system, it will own you and become your ruler because you never questioned it.

So if you're holding on to something that may be holding you back from your fullest potential, I'm going to ask you to consider doing something to shift your view.

What Matters More for Your Success Starts In Your Head

Any Star Wars fans out there? In the Empire Strikes Back, the Jedi Master Yoda challenges Luke Skywalker to shift his mindset from self-limiting thoughts to one of possibilities, when he says this...

"You must unlearn what you have learned."

Yoda is one badass life coach. That quote, one of the best movie quotes ever, has triggered and provoked people's thinking for decades.

There are many things that we must unlearn first -- things we perceive to be true and assumptions we make because of our belief system -- that limits us.

Let me give you an illustration to prove my point. How many of you reading this column have driven past a yield sign on the street? That should pretty much be all of us.

So here's a test. Without opening up a new browser and Googling the answer, what two colors do you think the yield sign is? Think for a moment.

OK, if you said it's yellow and black, congratulations. You're partly right. But truth be told, yellow and black was the correct answer up until...1971.

The yield sign has in fact been red and white for 46 years!

But here's my point. We've been driving by these red and white yield signs for years (some for the full 46!), and all of us have attained a great deal of information and knowledge-- whether it be from school, work, life experience, the "school of hard knocks," or through modeling behavior -- that was in fact true then. But the world has evolved, we are in a new social and technological era, yet many of us have not discarded old information and knowledge still embedded in our current beliefs.

So now, if you got the yield sign question wrong, every time you drive by a red and white yield sign, I encourage you to think to yourself: what else do I need to unlearn?

Another famous quote crucial for this discussion is by Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, who said this over 2,500 years ago: "To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, subtract things everyday."

Knowledge is good, but real success comes from acquiring an abundance of wisdom. What Tzu is getting at is removing anything excessive, confusing, counter-productive, hard to use or manage, and having the discipline to stop yourself from adding it in the first place.

Leaders: Unlearning and Subtracting Your Beliefs

There are many leaders in organizations all over the world who read my column daily. Taking Yoda's and Tzu's advice to heart, what do you think you need to unlearn (or "untrain") and subtract in how you lead yourself and others?

Most leaders I know don't arrive at their privileged positions overnight. They usually start low and work up the ladder. Along the way, they pick up habits -- some exceptionally good, some horrifically bad. Depending on which way they go, they pass on what they've learned to other leaders, who do the same.

Therein lies the problem. We don't have a clear and compelling picture of true leadership across the board to model for generations to come. Some people believe true leadership is about arriving at the top so they can exercise power and control over "the little people" in order to achieve a desired outcome for their benefit.

Others find it glamorous and become entrapped in their own hubris, charisma, and self-importance -- losing trust and team -- as they spiral down into their narcissistic demise.

Truth is, in today's business climate, every interaction you're in as a leader should come down to two things:

Relationships and results.

A manager, founder or executive only focused on results, performance, and driving people like cattle at the expense of relationships will fail at winning people's hearts and minds to produce a great thing.

A manager, founder or executive only focused on relationships without achieving results is someone running a country club where every day feels like a pool party. But nothing gets done. They lack competence and ultimately fail.

You need both. But arriving there means you may need to unlearn and subtract a few things here, learn and add a few things there.

Your Next, Brave, Steps

As you figure out the things that you need to improve your leadership skills, consider these steps for a fresh start.

1. Practice.

Becoming a skilled leader in the current social economy is kind of like becoming a skilled doctor, lawyer, or police officer. Application and practice is the key. It's not something that is grasped intellectually, like learning algebra or accounting. We become leaders by unlearning and subtracting old habits (thank you Yoda and Lao Tzu), applying our new learning and knowledge, and adding experience to our everyday lives.

2. Change.

You must be willing and motivated to change and grow as a leader. I hate to get soft for a minute, but this is where the heart matters. Your intentions to become a great leader someday have to be heart-based. In other words, great leaders connect to the hearts of their followers to gain their trust. They pump the fear out of the room and liberate their employees to take risks, make mistakes, have a voice, and give input. As you grow and change as a leader, I'm not saying you're forsaking your head or intellect; it means both head and heart need to be in the game. Otherwise, you're stuck in autocracy-land -- focusing heavily on the end results and treating people like cogs--and forgetting the relationships that will achieve even greater results while making people's lives better.

3. Feedback.

And finally, to develop leadership skills, one must be motivated to seek out and receive feedback from others so that you can see yourself more clearly. This will take some courage. You have to be willing to go down deep to explore old habits and behaviors below the surface that need to be identified and changed. In other words, unlearning and subtracting old behaviors and learning and adding new habits.

I end with the obvious question: What is it that you must unlearn today?

Published on: Jun 5, 2017
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