Ten magical thoughts to let go of


I see plenty of examples of magical thinking by leaders every day about those who report to them. Uncovering this kind of thinking requires some reflection because it’s often below the surface.

Magical thoughts create ineffective action. They sap your energy. Letting go of them allows you to be able to use that energy for things that are more positive, realistic, and productive. You can uncover your magical thoughts by considering the things that frustrate or irritate you as a leader.

Here are some of the magical thoughts I’ve noticed from leaders, and some ideas on remedying them:

You can control others: Unless you are a dictator or tyrant, demanding that people do things your way just won’t work. Every one of your stakeholders is unique, seeing the world and acting through the lens of their own experience. Appreciate them as they are and let go of thinking that everyone has to do things your way and watch their creativity become unleashed!

Others are motivated by what motivates you: It takes some effort on your part to discover what motivates other people. Each one of us brings a richness to our work based on what is interesting or exciting for us. Spend some time getting to know what motivates others, use this information wisely, and watch productivity soar!

Leading your team would be easier if you had the right people on the bus: Sometimes, you’re dealt a hand that is less than ideal. You may have to let people go, but not everyone who works for you will be perfect (in your eyes). Stop being critical and start coaching those who have potential to get better at what they do. Help them to make their mistakes part of the learning process.

People who report to you feel absolutely comfortable being honest with you: I hear this a lot, and it does require a dose of realism. Generally, if you are in a position that has the power to hire, fire, or increase pay, your direct reports will not be totally honest with you. Understanding that goes a long way toward creating relationships that are as honest as possible.

Throwing money at good employees is enough: Your best employees will always be appreciative of raises, but they need more from you. Some may want to be coached, others may want a challenging project, time off, recognition, or all of the above. If you can discover what they want besides money, you’ve unlocked the secret to great leadership.

People aren’t watching you: Not to make you nervous, but leadership is a performing art. People are expecting you to model ethical, moral behavior and to act like a leader should. They are watching you very closely. Gossiping, whining, and being overly critical will get you nowhere. Unethical behavior is even worse. Your ability to influence others depends on your ability to model stellar behavior.

There is nothing more for you to learn: You may have been a leader for a long time. You may receive stellar feedback. But look closely. There is always room for improvement, even in your signature strengths. Besides, if you start believing there is nothing you can do go improve, you’re likely to become extremely annoying. Leadership requires ongoing learning and development.

“They know what to do” but aren’t doing it: If you are frustrated with the direction your team is heading in, look to yourself first. You can’t change them until you change yourself. They may need more clarity or less meddling. They might need and appreciate your ongoing coaching. What if you had an open discussion to find out what they need from you?

“If only I had employees that were more like me”: Thinking like this will give your organization nothing but lackluster performance and ideas that are all the same. Hiring “mini-me’s” will put you on a path to derailment. Instead, look for those who think differently, will challenge you and the status quo. Listen to them!

There isn’t a connection between results and the “soft stuff”: There is a big connection between your ability to create trusting, open, and honest relationships and organizational results. This requires you to not just keep your eye on the bottom line but to pay attention to forming, developing, and sometimes repairing relationships with those who report to you. Make sure you are connecting with them on a regular basis.

Since our thoughts become action, it’s important to be aware of your wishful thoughts. Stay grounded in reality. What magical thoughts have you noticed in yourself or others?




I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.