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5 Leadership Mind Traps and How to Get Around Them!

Every once in a while, you come across a book that really makes you “think” and maybe even “change the way you think.” “Unlocking the Leadership Mind Traps: How to Thrive on Complexity” by Jennifer Garvey Berger was that book for me.

My first introduction to Jennifer was through an online course I recently took (The Art of Development Coaching). Jennifer was one of the instructors and I found her very engaging and very insightful into her perspectives and facts regarding adult and leadership development.

To quote Jennifer Garvey Berger:

“We live in this strange and paradoxical time in our world where the increasing complexity around us could lead us to grow faster, more compassionate and closer together, or it could lead us to become more defensive, closed, hard and little ones. “

There is no doubt that the world in which we work and live is complex and increasingly complex. But just as we must deal with complexity “out there” or external to ourselves, we are challenged to understand and deal with complexity “in here” and internal to ourselves.

In Jennifer’s book, she refers to 5 mind traps. The premise is that we act as if the world is simple when in reality the world is quite complex. Recognizing these mental traps within ourselves helps us see things through a broader lens and gives us greater resources to deal with real complexity.

These are the 5 mental traps:

1. Simple Stories – We love our stories. Stories often have a beginning, middle, and end and are filled with heroes and villains. Often, we are the hero of the story and the other person is the villain. Our problem-solving nature looks for shortcuts, which is why history is littered with our beliefs and biases. But simple stories keep us small and assume a certain denouement based on the past. One way to expand beyond our story is to consider the other person in the story. How could they be considered a hero?

2. Righteousness: Our sense of being “right” enables our decision, but on the other hand it can kill curiosity and openness. You can even confuse feeling good with being right. Ask yourself “what do I believe and how can I be wrong?” There are always 2 sides to a situation – exploring the other side is good practice. Be sure to listen carefully to learn rather than win or fix things.

3. Agreement – We are programmed to be connected with other people. Agreement fulfills our desire for belonging and connection. Sometimes we want to belong so badly that we downplay our difference of opinion. We are oriented not to be socially disconnected because the pain of being excluded is experienced in the same way as physical pain in the body. To release this mental trap, consider how the conflict could serve to deepen a relationship. Or how disagreeing can lead to broader thinking and ideas.

4. Control – Our feeling of being in control is directly tied to our feeling of being happy. In fact, being in control and being perceived as being in control by others is often equated with good leadership. However, sometimes great leadership requires us to relinquish control to enable better outcomes, especially in complexity. Ask yourself: What can I help enable rather than what can I make happen? Or what could enable me/us?

5. Ego: Our sense of who we are helps us function with purpose. The person we are now is the culmination of our thoughts, experiences, beliefs, up to this point in our journey. However, the problem is that we protect the person we are now against the person we are becoming. We think we have changed in the past, but for some reason we probably won’t change much in the future. This leads us to want to protect the person we think we are. For true personal growth to happen, we must pay attention to the map of our own development and ask ourselves “who would I like to be next?”


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