An Undervalued Key to Effective Leadership: Possessing a Willingness for Reinvention

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Fill in the blank: I want to be a successful/effective/loving ____________________.

I imagine that your ‘blank’ was filled with “leader,” “spouse,” “parent,” “manager,” “employee,” “teacher,” or something similar.

I want to propose an idea to you: Your ability to become truly successful/effective/loving is contingent on your willingness to reinvent yourself.

I am not talking about your willingness to learn, grow, or do things differently. I am talking about your willingness to reinvent yourself. I think there is a difference. For example:

  • I think one can have a willingness to learn or grow, but not be willing to reinvent themselves
  • But, I also think that people who are willing to reinvent themselves are also willing to learn and grow

Examples that Highlight the Importance of Being Willing to Reinvent Oneself

Let me give you some examples of what reinvention looks like or could look like.

Crew Coaches

There was a research study done with crew coaches. What they found was that while all coaches want to do what is best for their team and win, they focused on different things given their expertise.

  • Novice coaches focus on dozens of things, but prioritize technique the most
  • Intermediate coaches focus on about a dozen different things, but prioritize conditioning the most
  • Expert coaches focus on only a handful of different things, but prioritize psychological factors the most

What this suggests is that in order go from novice to expert, crew coaches essentially have to completely reinvent their outlook and perspective on what it takes to win at least twice.

My Dad

As I have focused on my personal vertical development, there are a couple of ways that I have seen how my dad negatively influenced me. While unintentional, it was negative.

First, my dad had some financial difficulties in the economic downturn in the early 1980’s. I believe this led him to seek after a safe civic job that put provided little more than the basics. His philosophy toward money was that saving leads to wealth creation, debt should be avoided, and entrepreneurship is financially risky. I carried these philosophies into adulthood, which I believe really held me back.

Second, over the last two years, I have been working with a trauma therapist, and what I have learned is that while my dad provided me with the physical things that I needed, he did not provide me with the emotional things that I needed. Other than going to my sporting events, he was a rather uninvolved parent. I was emotionally neglected, which research has found has as bad, if not worse, effects than physical abuse.

I believe that he wanted to be an effective and loving parent (and I believe he saw himself as a good parent), but he was unwilling to reinvent himself to become that person. And, for me to overcome his negative influence, I have had to reinvent myself.

Me as a Student & My Students Now

When I entered college, I wanted to become a medical doctor, so I signed up for the weeder pre-med chemistry class. At the end of the year, I had gotten the lowest grade I had ever received, a “C.” My belief was that if chemistry doesn’t come naturally to me, and I would need to do well in chemistry to become a doctor, I was not cut out to be a doctor. So, I changed my major. Honestly, I didn’t even think about changing myself or my study habits (i.e., reinventing myself), which was surely necessary at the time.

It wasn’t until mid-way through my doctoral program and I failed my comprehensive exams that I had the determination to reinvent myself and develop a completely different approach to my study and learning. This was honestly life-changing and led to me passing my comprehensive exams with flying colors the next year. And, it is what I credit for the approach I have had toward learning that has led me to writing two books and dozens of research papers.

Every semester, across my classes, I have 20 students who fail my class’s first exam. I would say 10 of them ask me how they can perform better on the next exam (unfortunately not more). Given my experiences, I invite them to step up their study habits. One of the primary things I encourage them to do is: “Prior to the next exam, fill out the study guide, and come meet with me to go over it.” This requires that they do something radically different than what they usually do. I am lucky if I get one of these students to come meet with me. Most students fail to reinvent themselves when the opportunity arises.

Have you ever invited someone to step up or elevate and they have resisted it? I am sure you have seen this in others.

And, what happens when they have resisted your invitations for reinvention? I imagine it hurts your feelings and leads to a decrease in how much you trust them. (Ps. This is what happens when we resist invitations for reinvention from others).

Executives

In one organization that I worked with, the CEO wanted all of his executive team to take my mindset and vertical development assessments, but he was unwilling to take the assessments. I am sure this response was a mixture of a defense mechanism as well as a believe that he was “above” doing such things. He also happens to be a leader who seems to lead with a very heavy-handed fixed mindset. He thinks of himself as a really great leader, but it is pretty clear to everyone around him, myself included, that he is not yet the leader he could be. To become that leader, he is going to have to reinvent himself and get to the place where he (1) is open to deepening his self-awareness and (2) believes that he has space for greater learning and development.

In another organization, I asked the COO how she measures the organization’s success. She said, “double-digit growth year-over-year.” She, along with her executive team members, are really focused on outcomes. As such, they tend to lead with control versus context and have created a rigid top-down leadership structure that is hindering creativity and innovation. If they want to elevate their business from their current place of stagnancy, they will need to reinvent themselves such that they focus less on outcomes and more on elements of a great culture (leading with context, empowerment, growth mindsets).

In a third organization, I presented the collective mindset results of 200+ sales reps to the organization’s leaders. The collective mindsets were really poor. Even after seeing these objective results, the leaders of the organization did not have any interest in taking any action to improve the mindsets of their employees. In my mind, this was like someone receiving a cancer diagnosis, and then choosing not to treat it. My belief is that their unwillingness to focus on mindsets was an admission that focusing on mindsets would require reinvention and they were not willing to reinvent themselves.

My Wife

A couple of years ago, when I was diving deeply into a study of trauma and its effects on our minds and bodies, it became clear to me that my wife had experienced rather significant trauma during her upbringing and that this trauma was impacting how she was operating as a person, spouse, and parent. At that point in time, I invited her to explore engaging in trauma therapy. To me, this was an invitation for reinvention. She vehemently resisted this invitation.

Honestly, this was really hard for me to swallow. To me it was a breach of trust, and I lost hope that the dynamics in my family would get better (we weren’t in a terrible place, but I had an interest in going from “ok” to “great”).

After a few months, she became open to the idea, and we both started engaging with a trauma therapist. For both of us, it has led to personal reinvention. And, she has gotten to the point where she wants to work on her trauma more than she was and she has started doing equine therapy. From this work, she has become a much better person, mother, and spouse.

Key Points

In these examples, I tried to convey several key points:

  • In order for vertical development to occur, one must be open to reinventing themselves.
  • It is not uncommon for leaders and people to be unwilling the reinvent themselves (in fact, it may even be the norm).
  • People who are unwilling to reinvent themselves generally see themselves as being unable to change and/or they believe that they have already “arrived” (Do you believe that you can change? Do you believe that you have already “arrived?”).
  • Leaders who are willing to reinvent themselves blossom into truly fantastic leaders.
  • When organizational leaders are unwilling to reinvent themselves, they are dooming their organization to mediocrity or worse.
  • Being willing to reinvent oneself requires that we be open to letting go of our current beliefs, foci, and priorities, and grab hold of new beliefs, foci, and priorities.
  • When Person A resists Person B’s invitation for reinvention, it damages the relationship and leads to a decrease in trust. So, if you resist the invitations of others to reinvent yourself (which resistance usually comes about because we are self-protecting), know that you are damaging the relationship by your passivity.

Here are a couple of questions for you to consider:

  • How willing are you to reinvent yourself?
  • How can you demonstrate your willingness to reinvent yourself to those around you?

Side note: it seems to me that a willingness to reinvent oneself requires vulnerability and an admission that one is not yet what they can become.

If you would like to elevate your willingness to reinvent yourself, I believe that reading my new book, The Elevated Leader, will really help you move the needle on this.

The Elevated Leader: Level Up Your Leadership Through Vertical Development

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