Leaders do not need to be psychics, mediums or fortune tellers.
Leading does not require you to know the future or to predict what others will say or do.
While leaders may be future-focused and working toward a better tomorrow, they are not imbued with special powers to foretell precisely what the future holds.
But there is a certain way you may be overlooking these limitations. In your thinking about a situation and your processing of messages received, you may be operating as if you had a crystal ball or the ability to read people’s minds.
In behavioral therapies, these are known as cognitive distortions. For applying this in our everyday lives and leadership, we can think of these as simple and common thinking traps.
Mind Reading: This thinking trap ensnares people who are quick-minded and intuitive. You may be accustomed to being one step ahead of others in most conversations. You often can anticipate what others are going to say or do. Because you are correct (or close enough) so often, you begin to fill in the blanks even more frequently and more quickly. Soon, you are doing this even without conversational cues. You assume you know exactly how people will respond. You no longer feel a need for checking in or confirming what you believe. You have, without realizing it, elevated yourself to the position of Mind Reader.
Fortune Telling: Perhaps you’ve experienced this thinking trap during a high-stress situation. Or maybe you’ve been in meetings with others who tend to adopt the role of Fortune Teller, always making predictions about what will happen next. When you begin to view the future as a foregone conclusion, you limit yourselves and others. Ideas and brainstorming are stymied by Fortune Tellers who seem to have all the answers. Fortune Tellers also abdicate their power, acting as if they (and others) have no power to influence future outcomes.
Catastrophizing: Once burned, twice shy? Your fears may be causing you to succumb to this thinking trap which exaggerates risks and focuses your predictions on the worst possible outcomes. Reason is set aside as you imagine the negative possibilities and convince yourself of imminent doom. As you look into the future, your fears and failures are overshadowing reality and the potential of positive results.
Each of these thinking traps over-relies on assumptions. You are extrapolating from insufficient evidence to draw conclusions that are not foundationally sound.
As an executive coach, I often hear leaders rationalizing these kinds of thinking. Some say it is efficient and expedient to use their experience and wisdom this way, steering others with these predictions. Others claim that this is a survival mechanism to eliminate risk and avert danger.
Occasionally, a leader tells me that this kind of thinking is actually self-indulgent and unproductive. That awareness is extraordinary, a huge leap forward and away from these thinking traps. Mind reading is arrogant. Fortune telling is obnoxious. Catastrophizing is just silly. Leaders who get stuck in these thinking traps aren’t helping others or themselves. They aren’t even leading when they are stuck here.
To get out of these kinds of thinking traps, focus on what’s real and in the moment. Don’t assume. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you already have all the answers. Instead, take a deep breath and open your mind up to new possibilities. Listen instead of talking. Evaluate your runaway thoughts and seize control of them.
Once you are back in control, notice the cracks in that crystal ball you’ve been relying on and trapped by. Consider getting rid of it once and for all.
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