The Empowered Blog

The One GRAND Leadership Illusion That Sinks Organizations

Leaders lie to themselves.  And they don’t even realize it. 

I know this statement may sound harsh at first.  I ask you to hold your judgment until after you’ve finished the article to understand why.

leadership brainFor example, when a company is stuck or has plateaued, I often hear reasons like …

  • Our company did not grow because of the economy.
  • We need more knowledge or technology to beat our competition.
  • We have to seize every revenue opportunity as it comes our way or we won’t survive.
  • The marketplace is an unfriendly place.

Do any of these sound familiar in your company?

The GRAND illusion is … those outside factors are NEVER the reason.   As soon as you justify outside factors for lack of growth, profitability and/or performance, you are lying to yourself.  You are buying into your own story.

That is not to dismiss the importance of knowledge, systems, the timing of opportunities and other factors that leaders believe with all their hearts are the reasons for their success or failure.

The Real Problem Is Your Leadership “Map.”

I don’t mean the kind of map you stick in the glove box of your car or get from your GPS system.  I am talking about a different kind of map.

In the 1930’s, Alford Korzybski, in his book “Science and Sanity,” made a profound statement about human nature.  A statement still widely used in many contexts, including management.  That is …

The map is not the territory.

This statement says it all … how and why your mind plays “dirty” tricks on you.  That is, your perception of reality is never reality itself.  Rather it is your version or internal representation of reality (or mental map).

100% of your experience of the world is being generated by your mind, not outside events.

Due to your brain’s limited processing capabilities, your mental maps filter out over 99% of external information coming from your five senses.  Your mind attempts to fill in the massive information gap with its own “spin,” story or interpretation about what it perceives.

Not only is your conscious awareness limited.  You also filter every experience through your own learned behaviors, experiences, beliefs, values, interests and states.  As a result, this filtering process distorts, deletes and generalizes your sense of reality.

How Can Your Mental Maps Cause BIG Trouble to Your Organization?

The distortion in thinking and perceptions –based on mental maps – creates over 80% of the problems at a leadership and organizational level.  While your leadership mental maps can actually create many problems in your organization, let’s look at 2 common examples.

Mind Trick #1:  You rationalize away outside circumstances (or your perceptions of those circumstances) as the reason for your organizational failures or lack of results.

Projecting outside circumstances (eg., the economy) as the cause for companies’ lack of results is so rampant in today’s business world.  Yet this one mistake alone is costing companies billions in lost revenues, profits and new opportunities … and leaders don’t even realize it!

The truth is … you either fight for reasons OR you fight for results.  Your brain is not capable of holding two opposing thoughts at the same time.

You can’t fight for growth and fight for the reasons for lack of growth at the same time.  When you focus on the latter, you are reinforcing in your brain why you can’t have growth.

Doing so has a domino effect.  On your attitudes, you become a victim.  On your beliefs, you convince yourself again that “outside circumstances drive your fate.”  On your behaviors, you focus your actions on survival, and ultimately, all this drives results or more lack of growth

Do you see how your perceptions of reality (your mental maps) determine your outcomes?

How is it that at times you become prisoner to your own reasons (and don’t realize it)?  What are the telltale signs?

Level of believability:  Your reasons seem plausible. 

So much so, you perceive your reasons or beliefs as true … as facts.  Those reasons then drive your focus and preclude you from seeing other possibilities.

Because blaming the economy for company failures or lack of results is a common rationalization, let’s use that as an example. 

You speak that rationalization, think it, believe it, feel it, and act consistently with it and then have evidence to back it up that it’s true. You are so identified with your mental map or mind that to you it is not your mind at all, it is the unvarnished truth.  In this case, you believe that the economy is the reason.

Consensus:  Your team, industry peers, the media, etc. all validate your reason. 

They buy into the same reason.  “Of course, the economy is to blame.”   Consensus grows and resignation becomes contagious within your company and industry.  This meme  …. aka thought virus … becomes the norm and goes viral.  Your thinking is infected and you can’t see causes within your control or other possibilities for a different outcome.

That one thought (or mental map) is the real cause for lack of results, not the economy.

That’s not to negate that economic downturns exist and can impact how a company operates and grows.   Your response to a down economy is completely within your control however.

It’s within your control to look for market segments or industries still in a growth mode.  It’s within your control to identify new strategies for seizing opportunities. It’s within your control to focus on your most profitable offerings during downturns.

You get to choose.  Are you going to fight for reasons or fight for results?

Mind Trick  #2:  You believe/assume that your plans and strategies, as long as followed,  (“the map”) will take your company to its desired destination (“the territory”).

Developing strategies and plans is a healthy practice for leaders to do.

However …. and this is a BIG “however” … it is often assumed that if you follow your strategies and plans (“the map”), you will successfully navigate the path (“the territory”) to get to your company’s destination.

There’s something to be said about staying the course and sticking to your strategies.  Yet your strategies often create blind spots that underestimate the impact of external changes on your business.

The issue is not about the content of your strategies and plans.  The issue is the unconscious belief or assumption that you have the right roadmap.  That one belief will cause you to filter critical external information and cues that may be signaling you have the wrong roadmap or you need to change it.

Example: A common blind spot is to overestimate your company’s strengths and capabilities.  If you perceive customer service as a strength, you are apt to assume that “strength” as the basis of your strategy and your differentiator.  That blind spot, however, may cause you to miss other emerging competitors who are better able to service your customers and are threatening your business.

  • Where are you missing critical external cues that your strategies (maps) need to be changed?  
  • Where are you over-estimating your business capabilities and strengths?  
  • To what extent are you attached to your own strategies as being correct that you cannot perceive better ways of reaching your destination?

The above are 2 manifestations of the grand leadership illusion that can sink organizations and performance.  Your mental maps are driving your outcomes, not external circumstances.  The more you understand as a leader how your mind works, the less trapped you will be by your own thoughts and mental paradigms.

Changing Your Leadership “Maps” Can Change Your Results & Performance … At Lightning Speed.

Let’s take a moment to summarize what you need to remember from this article.

Key Points Summary

  • The map is not the territory.
  • Your mental maps of reality are NOT 100% accurate.  Your mental maps distort reality through your brain processing and filtering systems.
  • We react to our own mental maps, not reality. Our maps are affected by our own interpretation about what is happening.  Your negative interpretation of the same event can be another person’s optimism.
  • Your territory is constantly changing, so don’t overlay today’s experiences with what happened yesterday. After all, the surroundings were different.  Just because sales slowed or profit margins declined last month does not mean your growth or profitability can’t be stellar this month.
  • No two maps are the same. Everyone creates their own maps, each is unique and no two are the same. (Your map is not the same as other leaders on your team.  In fact your maps may be opposite of each other.)

The good news is … your mental maps can be changed.  New mental maps can catalyze your company to its next level of success, just as much as the old ones can keep you stuck in molasses.

The first step to change is to question everything.  Challenge every thought, assumption, belief (disguised as fact) and point of view with which you currently identify.  Especially the ones you believe are right :)).

In future articles, I will be addressing the concept of constrictive minds and their impact on your leadership and organizational performance.  To be notified of those and other articles, sign up for our monthly newsletter and free report at Wired to Win BIG.



Denise Corcoran works with CEOs and executive teams seeking rapid growth yet are challenged by the “invisible barriers” that keep them stuck, overwhelmed or in crisis mode. Her company —The Empowered Business — is one of the few companies providing whole brain, strategic solutions for unleashing leadership and organizational potential. Her secret sauce is assisting CEOs and executive teams develop the “X factor” – i.e., the mindset, attitudes and game-changing thinking -- that drives double and triple digit growth … by design.


Posted by Denise Corcoran on April 6, 2014 in Emotional Mastery, Goal Achievement, Leadership Development, Leadership Performance, Mindset, Organizational Performance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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