“It’s not ‘what we don’t know’ that hurts us…  It’s what we believe is true that isn’t that does the damage.”  Melody Beattie

Every day, as a leader you are called upon to make judgments and decisions—quickly and effectively.

But are you making the best ones for your business, for your career, and for the people on your teams?  Or are you blinded by your own insecurities, doubling down on half-truths, and reacting to information that is distorted or simply untrue?…

“It’s what we believe is true that isn’t that does the damage…”  

In my career in corporate and as a coach, I have observed three kinds of “believing the untrue” that cause the greatest damage.

Untruths about the world and other people.

Early in my own career, I learned that I would be assigned to a new supervisor.  A peer had been reporting to her for a while and found her quite difficult to work for.  In a separate conversation with a more experienced colleague, I shared my distress at learning I would be working for this manager.  She looked puzzled and probed me a bit about what I had heard.  “I hear she’s a real micromanager.”  

She did not press me to change my opinion or give me advice.  But the surprise on her face was enough to give me pause.  I decided to withhold judgment and this manager turned out to be one of the best I have had.  

Untruths about ourselves.  

“I’m not good at advocating for myself.”  I have heard no shortage of self-disparaging remarks from women in leadership about what they believe to be their inherent abilities—or more accurately, the lack thereof.  Be careful about prescribing your future by painting your past with the broad brush of selective memory.  Firstly, this is unlikely true.  Even if you have disappointed yourself in the past when it comes to self-advocacy, you can surely think of at least one time when you did it successfully. And even, on the off chance that you have not, you can always learn.  

Untruths about the connection between the world and ourselves.  

“That person just doesn’t like me.” Or, “Every time I speak, they interrupt.  They don’t respect me.”  This third untruth is the flawed connection that we make between ourselves and the world around us.  Most often this is experienced as a threat.  Fear has taken hold and we decide that there is irrevocable bad blood between us and another.  And sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, the drama is intoxicating.  

Wisdom resides in the space where we pause our judgment, assess what they are based on, and make the next move accordingly.  

Three Signs You May Be “Believing What Isn’t True”

Strong emotions

Emotions are a fantastic internal barometer.  They show us where our boundaries lie, what we value most, and where we are most vulnerable.  They also are an indicator that we are making a judgment about a situation.  The deeper the emotion, the more impenetrable that judgment likely is.  As a leader, pay attention to your emotions, and where possible, step back from decisions or actions long enough to reflect on the cause of them.  There’s a good chance that something other than the surface topic needs your attention.  

Sweeping language, such as “I always, they never”.  

It is highly unlikely that you or anyone around you “always” or “never” do anything.  If you hear yourself using these words or anything similar, take a pause and make the conscious choice to bring in more data, and more information.  And for goodness’ sake, stop betting against yourself.  If you bet against yourself, you will win the bet, but lose the game.

An urge to punish someone, or yourself.

If the strong emotion you are feeling is anger, that may be accompanied by the urge to punish someone.  And if that anger is directed towards yourself, then so, likely, is that urge.  But as a leader, there is always something bigger to be achieved than punishing any individual.  If in scanning yourself, you pick up a desire to punish, then definitely take a pause. The most important thing is for you to lead the business to a desirable outcome, not to have the brief satisfaction of proving someone wrong.

Attuning yourself to these signals, and pausing, allows you to take in more information—a fuller picture that will lead you to better decisions for yourself, your team, and your organization.

Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who helps executive women get what they want from a career they love. Learn more at www.wendyhultmark.com.