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Try to guess!

They are always with you, influence most of your choices and shape your daily life, but  you are not aware of their existence. What are they? 

I was giving a training on Gender Equality and Organizational Change to the staff of an international agency based in northern Europe, when I asked the participants to perform the following exercise.

“Close your eyes. Imagine it’s your first day of your new job.

You have finally landed the role you have been aspiring to for years, in the organization of your dreams. Between joy and emotion, you cross the threshold of your new professional headquarters and a very kind and smiling person comes to take you to the director’s office, who is waiting for your arrival. As soon as you enter your new boss’s room and sit down, a feeling of satisfaction invades you because the person who is standing in front of you is exactly the kind of manager you have been always dreaming of. The person you wish to be one day. You no longer have any doubts, a fantastic professional experience has just begun!

Now open your eyes and answer these three questions about what you saw: Was the kind and smiling person who brought you to the manager’s office a man or a woman? Was the manager a man or a woman? What aesthetic and behavioural characteristics did characterize the manager you saw standing in front of you?”

The following week I received an email.

“I’m Asa, we met a few days ago during the course. I want to tell you that the exercise about the visualization we did together was enlightening for me. The person who accompanied me to the new boss’s office was a woman. I thought she had a subordinate role, something like an assistant or a secretary and, in my imagination, she could only be a female employee. The manager was a man. I saw him in front of me. He was tall, handsome, elegant, peaceful and, above all, very self-confident.

I also hold a managerial position, which is incredibly stressful to me. I am always the last to leave the office at night, and the first to arrive in the morning. I check everything an infinite number of times, but this is never sufficient to reassure me.

Sometimes, I even avoid sharing my opinions and viewpoints during meetings with colleagues, since I am not so sure whether what I am going to say is smart enough for that context. This leads me to remain excluded from many decision-making processes of my organization. The emotion that best describes my days is anxiety. An almost perennial anxiety that I have tried to explain myself many times, concluding that I probably don’t have the personality to be a boss.

But now everything has changed. Through the scenario that I visualized with you, I have understood that this sense of inadequacy that consumes me does not depend on the fact of not possessing the qualities to be a good manager, but rather on the perception of the qualities that I was unconsciously convinced a good manager should possess.

I am a tiny woman, who often feels not self-reliant. In practice, I represent the opposite model to what I perceive as a perfect boss and this gap between my reality and my ideal, which cannot be realistically filled, makes my life a torment. I simply don’t accept me because I unknowingly think I should be different to excel in a leadership position. Where does this model of ideal manager I have in my mind come from? I honestly do not know. Anyway, now that I have discovered it, I also comprehend its destructive impact on my emotional state and daily reality. Consequently, my current main objective is to get rid of this stereotype (the successful manager is an always self-confident man) and build, day by day, my personal, tailored and innovative, way to lead my team. I want to transform this experience and all my uncertainties into a resource, to become a better manager and help the others to grow. I want to make it for myself and for all the other women who are still trapped in limiting biases. Now I feel free and full of power to do and, above all, to be”.

It was always with Asa, it influenced most of her choices at work and shaped her daily life, but she was not aware of its existence. What was it? It was a self-limiting behaviour.

Self-limiting behaviours is definitely the right answer to this article’s title!

What are they?

They are personal “modes of functioning” (made of specific thoughts and consequent sets of actions) that hinder the achievement of the objectives we want or that prevent us from being what we wish, jeopardising our wellbeing and fulfilment.

We all have self-limiting behaviours and their most threatening and dangerous side is our inability to recognise them.

When we assess recurrent unsuccessful results, unhappiness, stress, failures, conflictual relationships and we do not understand where all of this comes from, questions arise.

Why does this happen to me? Do I Have to blame fate, someone around me, or my lacks and weaknesses?

Most of the time, it is none of that. Most of the time, it is a self-limiting behaviour that, like an invisible chain, impedes us to walk towards the desired destination, transforming the journey into a combat battle against something that we do not see, nor know.

In this way, we waste energy and pile up delusions.

What’s the solution?

My personal answer to this query is Self-Leadership, which means self-awareness (I discover my functioning modes and their consequences) and self-management (I learn how to replace the detected self-limiting behaviours with empowering ones).

Self-leadership involves a set of knowledge, strategies, and tools that we develop and practice, through commitment and dedication, enabling us to climb and reach the highest peaks.

Where do you want to go? Is there something limiting you?

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