In coaching sessions, leaders often say that there are certain things about themselves that they just can’t change. For example, they might say, “I’m an introvert” or “I’m a perfectionist” or “I have a type A personality”. They tend to associate strengths with these characteristics: their type A personality gives them their drive to be a high achiever, their perfectionism ensures they deliver high-quality work. As introverts, they’re good at reading situations, or as extroverts, they can build strong relationships, and so on. But what happens with the shadow side of these fixed traits? What happens when the introvert keeps avoiding meetings that are critical for their role? What happens when the type-A personality keeps taking and improving other people's work to get things moving at the pace they want? What happens when the perfectionist gets stuck in a never-ending cycle of improvement?
If you believe your character traits are fixed and there is nothing you can do about that, then you can finish reading this article here and allow yourself to be limited by your fixed mindset. But what if there is a different paradigm? What if the paradigm you’re coming from – the belief that the shadow side of your personality traits is just to be coped with, avoided or minimised – is keeping you stuck? Sometimes the belief that we are fixed a certain way becomes an excuse for resisting change. It can become a way of not taking responsibility for the impact your way of being has on your results and on others. This article will make you question where you are not fully owning your ability to transform how you are as a leader. Approaching life from the perspective that you can change and don’t need to be a set way is a powerful shift for leaders and the emerging generation.
Accepting that we are fixed a certain way can become a safe space where we can avoid working on ourselves. This isn’t always a conscious decision, but it does create a safety net that can allow us to just give up. Leaders can get to a point in their career where some of their recognised traits that worked in the past don't necessarily work in a new position or in another context. So they hit a wall and find they no longer produce the same results by doing what worked before.
One particular leader I coached told me how she had been fast-tracked up the ranks, as she was highly skilled technically and had led other teams to deliver outstanding results in the past. However, in her new role, she was not achieving the same traction with her team and was unable to build effective relationships that allowed them to deliver results. She had reached out to me for coaching, but whenever she felt challenged about an area of herself that she needed to rethink, she would revert to saying, “This is because I’m a type A personality”. It became apparent that she believed she had positive and negative character traits she couldn’t change. This misconception caused her to ignore the impact she was having as a leader and didn’t allow her to adapt to what her team needed from her. She was stuck in a given personality type and saw herself as just having to accept the suffering that came with that.
As a coach who works from an ontological perspective and aligns my practice with the Being Framework™, the world’s first framework that clearly articulates and maps out how human beings are BEING in the world, I don't see people as fixed. I know they can and do transform. That’s why I support my clients to understand and transform their relationship with the Aspects of Being that impact their performance, effectiveness and ability to lead.
I once coached someone who considered himself an introvert and found it hard to engage in conversations with clients and team members. During our time together, I supported him to shift his performance and sense of fulfilment by working on his relationship with anxiety, responsibility and assertiveness, three Aspects of Being in the Being Framework. Instead of always believing he was a victim of how he felt and thinking that he needed to hide it, he brought responsibility and ownership to his experience of himself. He worked on speaking up through assertiveness and clearing some of his worries (anxiety). He began to recognise whenever he was making excuses or justifying why he didn’t step up at work, and he took action to transform how he was being. Seeing himself as an introvert was no longer an issue by the end of our time together.
As an ontological coach, whenever I see a client who believes that an aspect of their personality is fixed, we work on bringing awareness to this belief. We work to understand the relationship they have with this part of themselves. And we work on bringing in the Aspects of Being – for example, authenticity, responsibility, compassion and assertiveness – that will support them to shift and get results.
Sometimes we get sucked into theories others have created to make us believe that we are a certain way. I experienced many of them while I was studying psychology and when I was working with organisations that put these theories into practice. But the ontological perspective has supported me to witness the most significant shifts in performance and personal fulfilment in my coaching clients. I'm committed to giving people the opportunity to know they can transform themselves. You can move beyond the belief that your character traits are fixed, do the work to change and transform yourself as a leader.