Healthy Reframing, or Self-Deception?
Reframing is a very helpful mental tool that you can use to feel better in difficult situations.
It’s helpful when you, or a member of your team, encounters a situation they decide has a negative meaning, like making a mistake.
To be a great leader, you must be able to reframe situations for people, to help them give different meaning to a situation, to feel differently about it so that it doesn’t stop them moving forward, and for them to be able extract the lesson from it in order to grow.
Reframing is also something you do for yourself as a leader, but I sometimes see people walking a fine line between reframing and self-deception.
Here’s a recent example of reframing tipping over into self-deception:
Jenny is the Clinical Director of a 5 vet practice.
One of the vets has been a bit of a challenge more recently and it has meant the vet and Jenny have had a series of conversations, some of which have gone ok, and others were more heated. Jenny admitted that she doesn’t feel she has handled it particularly well at times.
Then, this vet hands in their notice.
Jenny takes it somewhat personally, because she generally sees a resignation as a reflection of her leadership.
Jenny tells herself, “Oh well, she was on her way out anyway”.
What did Jenny do wrong here?
She reframed the situation so that it felt less uncomfortable for her and to remove the threat to her ego and self-esteem. She has latched onto another justification that means she doesn’t have to look at her own personal culpability in this situation.
Matthew Syed wrote in his book Black Box Thinking, “We cannot learn if we close our eyes to inconvenient truths”.
Jenny has closed her eyes to the truth of how her leadership abilities, her communication style, and how she showed up to the situation, could have impacted this employee’s happiness and fulfilment at work.
The problem is, she won’t extract any important lessons about leadership, communication, or handling tricky situations, to do better next time, which will create the inevitable outcome of something similar happening again.
You can only improve as a leader by detaching your self-esteem from your role as a leader and embracing humility.