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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.

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