As we learn more about who we are and how we orient to the world, we begin to develop a strong sense of self.
Psychological assessments and diagnostics further confirm many of the features of our personality that are highly fixed. The traits and predispositions that make us who we are are tied deeply to our biology and heredity. Understanding and respecting our psychology is essential work for leaders and team members.
The downside of this insight is when we apply the metaphor of a fixed state to behaviors that have nothing to do with our biology. Anytime we say out loud to ourselves or others things like, “I’m not relational,” or “Being vulnerable with others is not who I am,” we further cement a view of ourselves as fixed and unchanging people. This lets us off the hook not to make any of the changes necessary to develop our talents.
Whenever we tell ourselves, “My personality is one that avoids conflict,” or “Decisive is not who I am,” we give ourselves the ultimate excuse not to improve. After all, it makes little sense to attempt to crack the rocks of who we are and will always be.
The list of stable and permanent traits is relatively short. Traits like anxiety, self-induced stress, depression, emotional expressiveness, and learning agility exert a tremendous influence on how we engage others and develop as leaders.
Extending the idea of fixed traits to how we make decisions, give and receive feedback, or manage conflict is a slippery slope. While it helps to explain our choices, it also gives us an excuse not to make the changes necessary for personal development.
There is a tremendous difference between the expressions “This is not who I am,” and “This is not who I like to be.” The former is a flag of surrender. The latter is an acknowledgment that we need to push ourselves to grow by engaging in more situations that create discomfort.
We all prefer to be and behave in ways that are comfortable and rewarding. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make us better. We need to recognize our weaknesses and work to improve on them.
Self-improvement begins with a rejection of the fixed mindset of who we are. Who we are is a reflection of how we behave. Very few behaviors arise from the depths of our DNA. Who we like to be, and don’t like to be, confronts everyone who is trying to become a better version of themselves. So stop letting yourself off the hook for making personal change. Your development depends on it.
Classification is a reductionist simplification strategy to enable modelling of situations to facilitate prediction of the next situation and production of decision models. But then the brain kicks in...it makes you believe that the simplification is the truth. In an organizational sense it is very tempting to work with lists of criteria to justify decisions.
Leadership and management should then set an example in releasing grip on the model and look at what happens from moment to moment as a newly arisen situation. Then re-assess and re-model with the new data.