Mental Models

My kids love the water. They will swim in mountain streams, oceans, and down rapids. Their mental model is “the water is a fun playground”. They experience the world very differently from someone who sees the water as dangerous.

Great leaders share three mental models – sadly, the “not-so-great” leaders don’t share these and their results show.

  1. Team leads/managers/supervisors are responsible for helping their teams operate more effectively. This means learning new skills.
  2. Effective leadership is a very different skill set versus being an individual contributor. When we step up to the responsibility of leadership, we need to be aware and accepting that new skills can be emotionally challenging to learn and practice.
  3. Effective team leads will have to embrace emotional discomfort as they learn and practice their new skills. The process of emotional regulation is another set of foundational skills which shore up our ability to effectively support our teams.

Emotional discomfort (aka distress tolerance) is often the biggest hurdle for leaders with aspirations. They haven’t been trained in the skills of distress tolerance and likely they don’t even know such skills exist. Sadly, this is an issue across the world.

Distress tolerance is another learned (and practiced) skill set. When we have a distress tolerance habit, we voluntarily put ourselves in uncomfortable situations because we recognize the benefits (cold plunge anyone?). Listening to team member complaints, listening to peer complaints, listening to executive complaints, and listening to client complaints can all be emotionally challenging – and they are a gold mine of information and opportunities for improvements. Having distress tolerance makes this gold mine possible.

Mental models are the foundation for a successful leadership practice.

They Don’t Trust You

Trust is earned, the price is paid daily.

Trusted leaders earn radically better performance, engagement, and employee vulnerability. Sadly, doing the work to become and stay trusted is not happening in our workplaces. How do I know – talk with anyone at work about how vulnerable they are willing to be with their boss.

Is building trust a challenge? – absolutely. Does it require new skills? – of course. Is the ROI worth it? – only if you want to crush goals.

How does this work.

  1. Acknowledg the situation. Individual contributors have heard all the horror stories of disrespectful leaders, punitive bosses, and incompetent supervisors. We may not like these stories but they do frame the understanding of our team members. This is the reality of life, just like gravity.
  2. Have patience. Your team will not trust you because of a 5 minute conversation or worse – an email broadcast. Instead you have to expect to invest daily in building trust with each person on your team. This is a long game, building trust takes months.
  3. Be curious. Get to know the individuals on your team. What drives them, what excites them, and how do they want their career to advance. Where do they run into friction? You want to amass a dossier of understanding each person. This will take time (remember #2).
  4. Make their lives better. Yes, this is your responsibility. As a leader/supervisor/manager, your job is to help everyone on your team operate better. This means finding and removing frictions, coaching them to improve skills, and giving them a path for career advancement.
  5. Improve your own skill stack. Some of the “better” that your team needs will be new for you – yes, it’s an opportunity for your own growth. To coach your team, you will need to improve your communication, research, and presentation skills. It’s not their job to read your mind – it is your job to educate and catalyze behavior changes in your team.
    • Learn to handle emotional discomfort. Recognizing our own ignorance and incompetence at skills can be emotionally challenging – and it’s a necessity. Learn how to self regulate your brain chemistry and emotions. This is a critical element in learning new skills and being vulnerable yourself with your team, peers, and leadership.
  6. Repeat

I’ve used this process for 15+ years of team leadership. It has always been a part of the 40PB system that gave double digit improvements in productivity and cut churn.