Taking Out Your Head Trash: Secrets of Top Performers

Posted in: PSA Partnership

Managers know these two types of employees well: those who never seem to live up to their potential and those who hit the ball out of the park one day and are less-than-stellar the next. Have you stopped to wonder why someone on your team has such highs and lows? Or why it’s impossible to get someone to run on all cylinders? The answer is often tied to the employee’s self-limiting beliefs, also known as “head trash”.

Matt Neuberger, president and chairman of Neuberger and Company, an authorized licensee of Sandler Training specializing in proven results-oriented leadership and sales management training, led our most recent PSA Partnership event. He explained how self-concept drives performance — and just how much of an effect your own head trash can have on your own or your employees’ performance.

Repercussions of self-limiting beliefs  

Neuberger explained that self-concept is defined as how we view ourselves based on our own evaluations and the feedback we receive from others. In other words, self-concept is what we believe to be true about ourselves.

Self-limiting beliefs are the flotsam of a sub-optimal self-concept, littering your (and your employees’) psyches day in and day out. Not everyone has the same set of self-limiting beliefs, or the same self-concept, but one thing IS true for everyone, says Neuberger: Performance is linked directly to what we believe to be true about ourselves. Thus, we only achieve to the level we feel we deserve.

Often, the self-limiting beliefs during one’s childhood last a lifetime — if you struggled with math when you were young, you may never really feel that you could be “good” at it, no matter how much you learn. Self-limiting beliefs can keep even the most successful businesspeople in the most lucrative industries from actually feeling successful. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and marketing expert Seth Godin have reported experiencing “impostor syndrome,” or the sense that they were somehow not worthy of their achievements.

Taking out the trash

If self-limiting beliefs — “head trash” — are the rubbish on the road to success, then how to clear the way? Neuberger suggests the following steps for you and your employees.

  • Make a list of attributes that you feel define a “winner.” This could be patience, resilience, or enthusiasm. Whatever qualities you associate with success.
  • Take your list of attributes and rate how well you embody each attribute on a scale of 1-10. Be honest with yourself. Have you been particularly impatient lately, or not as patient as you’d like?

Make note of the places where you aren’t hitting a 9 or a 10. Those are voids in your self-concept where head trash can accumulate.

Identify those beliefs (or head trash) you have (often based in past experiences) about yourself, the world, your industry, your people, etc. that are holding you back from a high score. They are usually thoughts that revolve around a reluctance to innovate, fail, and seek out new challenges. Those thoughts are often supported by a rationalization that while you’re not the best, at-least you‘re not the worst or, you somehow don’t deserve to be wildly successful and being pretty good is okay.

Many of these thoughts tie you to your “comfort zone”…if you never try, then you never fail, and not failing is comfortable. The problem is, this comfort represses your ability to hit your potential. Consider the degree to which these often sub-conscious thoughts are hampering your success. Give thought to what might happen if you were willing to let go of those beliefs – best-case AND worst-case. You’ll often find the best-case success far outweighs the worst-case discomfort.

  • By going through these steps, you should become more aware of areas where you don’t feel you’re performing your best. Use your list of low-performing areas as goals and create an action plan with specific steps – defining who, what, when – that you’ll practice every day to create a positive self-concept of yourself and eliminate your head trash in each of the areas where you fall short. The same goes for your team: encourage them to do the same and be supportive and affirmative of their efforts by consistently checking in on their progress.

Achievement is a self-fulfilling prophecy

Both in business and in our personal lives, we end up meeting the expectations — low or high — that we set for ourselves, says Neuberger. Most of us can really only perform at a level consistent with how we expect we will perform. The same goes for our expectations of others. If you expect someone on your team to do a crummy job, chances are they will perform poorly because they sense your low expectations. That’s why it is so important, particularly as a supervisor, to both take inventory and regularly clear out your own head trash — and to encourage your employees to do the same. You may find that your own performance and the performance of your team members begins to improve.

Neuberger’s seminar concluded with a challenge: don’t be a camper, be a climber. “Campers” let their head trash block the path of their ascent and settle at comfortable base camps along the way. “Climbers,” on the other hand,” kick out the debris in the way of achievement in order to reach the summit of their goals.

To learn more about Matthew Neuberger’s approach to developing your employees and your business, check out his weekly column in the Baltimore Business Journal.

Don’t miss our 50th PSA Partnership event, “Invisibles – Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of the Workplace,” with journalist, author, and lecturer David Zweig on Tuesday, January 26 at 8:30 a.m.