How to Up Your Inner Game of Leadership

Wise leaders who want to adapt to rapidly shifting demands of business for the future, continually work with an executive coach to grow their inner game. The inner game of leadership is as important as mastering outer competencies, if not more.

The “inner game” concept became popular 15 to 20 years ago. Sports coach and consultant Tim Gallwey coined the term in The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Work, and his ideas have proved to be timeless.

Character strengths are key to any leader who wants to lead well. As such, to thrive, leaders should set both performance and learning goals, as I wrote about here.

Every learning goal contributes to future performance. In a performance-driven culture, achievement is overestimated at the expense of learning.

In my experience working with many executives, it’s not easy for leaders to set learning goals, as a bit of humility is necessary. Leaders must acknowledge the need to learn and grow, and clarify which goals have the most leverage.

It can be potentially difficult to identify where and how learning will take place. Obviously, work itself provides the best laboratory. Cooperation from others is also needed.

Here are some tips for setting learning goals as a leader. Ask yourself these questions to refine your goals:

  1. What do I need to learn to enhance my performance?
  2. Where and with whom can I ask questions and practice these skills?
  3. Who can help me?
  4. Which resources are available to me?
  5. How do I like to learn and grow?

Follow these steps to expand your inner game:

  • Set learning goals with a coach to achieve clarity and develop an action plan.
  • After implementing your action plan, debrief the learning experience with your coach to maximize change.

Inner Leadership

To develop your inner game, keep these points in mind:

  • Professional coaching provides a platform for learning the inner game of leadership.
  • Self 1’s ego interferes with Self 2’s inherent wisdom.
  • Nonjudgmental awareness is curative.
  • Learning and performance goals will prepare you for the future’s increasing demands.

What do you think? Have you set learning goals for yourself, or worked with a coach on your inner game? I’d love to hear from you; you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

The Inner Mindset of an Effective Leader

What distinguishes great leaders from their mediocre colleagues?  Leaders with a growth mindset use every challenge as a learning goal. Effective leaders set an inner mindset to learn from every challenge.

Some leaders focus almost exclusively on performance. Others emphasize growth and learning, as well as results. In a horse race, put your money on the leader who defines both learning and performance goals.

Many managers and leaders are performance-driven. They have lists of SMART goals that highlight what they intend to achieve each quarter, often involving numbers:

  • Exceed sales results by 5%.
  • Increase bonuses by 10% by year’s end.
  • Improve team productivity by 25%.
  • Increase shareholder value.
  • Decrease customer complaints.

In my coaching work with clients, such performance-driven leaders focus exclusively on the outer game. They judge their worth by whether they’ve achieved these goals, and they hold their people to the same standards.

Unfortunately, these leaders are likely missing key factors that restrict their potential: a growth mindset and the ability to set and pursue learning goals for themselves and others.

“The desire to learn is as fundamental to our being as the desire to survive and to enjoy.”
~ Tim Gallwey, The Inner Game of Work

Learning goals include:

  • Diminish feelings of stress.
  • Enhance listening skills.
  • Develop empathy skills.
  • Improve coaching skills.
  • Facilitate more cohesive team-building.

Performance goals are, of course, necessary for achieving bottom-line results. But keep in mind that the bar is constantly being raised. How do you keep increasing your capacity to perform? If you cannot improve your capabilities, you’re unable to keep up. Learning goals represent the inner game you must work on to prevent stagnation.

What do you think? Have you set learning goals for yourself, or worked with a coach on your inner game? I’d love to hear from you; you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

Three Ways to Generate Self-Motivation

Whether you’re the boss or working for one, the ability to self-motivate and be highly productive is increasingly important. In today’s competitive job market, you can’t expect to collect a paycheck for just showing up on time.

In the 1980s, at least 90 % of people worked for someone else. That’s changed; about one-third of people in U.S. work for themselves, either fully self-employed or as part-time freelancers.

  • In 2006 the Government Accountability Office produced a report that found that 31% of American workers were employed on some kind of contingent basis, including as freelancers, part-time, or temporary workers.
  • According to a 2014 survey by the Freelancers Union together with freelance platform Elance-oDesk, 53 million Americans, or 34% of the population, qualify as freelancers.
  • By 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be freelancers, contractors, and temp workers according to a study conducted by software company Intuit.

Regardless of employment status, successful people take the initiative, do whatever it takes, and go beyond minimal work requirements. They are self-motivated and able to find unique sources of energy that drive them to high performance.

How can you generate self-motivation and energy on those days when you feel tired, overwhelmed, or perhaps even bored? How do you tap into your determination and drive?

Isn’t All Motivation Self-motivation?

Motivation is a theoretical construct used to explain behavior, the reasons for people’s actions, desires, and needs. Motivation is what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior– as when we form habits.

There are many perspectives on motivation theories, and working adults are familiar with rewards programs, bonuses, and organizational incentives designed to encourage performance. But external motivation works only for a limited time and not in all situations.

Many people are familiar with Maslow’s Pyramid or Hierarchy of Needs. According to American psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, people are motivated by unsatisfied needs. The needs, listed from basic (lowest/earliest) to most complex (highest/latest) are as follows:

  • Physiology (hunger, thirst, sleep)
  • Safety/Security/Shelter/Health
  • Social/Love/Friendship
  • Self-esteem/Recognition/Achievement
  • Self actualization/Achievement of full potential (can never be fully accomplished)

While this list of needs explains why people become motivated, it doesn’t provide applicable tips as to how to use this information to boost your own self-motivation.  It is helpful, however, for linking meaningful values to goals, as discussed further on.

Self-motivation involves higher levels of personal involvement that motivate us beyond contracts or expectations of others. When we are driven to express our own desires, interests, values and strengths, we can achieve incredible levels of development and performance. It’s termed intrinsic motivation because it comes from internal sources.

Nothing is stronger than intrinsic motivation, and when we connect with it, we exert considerable effort without any expectation of reward. The performance itself becomes its own reward. When we use internal capabilities of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-motivation, we act in ways that enhance knowledge, trust, and personal power–all fundamental to success.

3 Steps to AWEsome Self-Motivation

The solution to finding self motivation, energy, and drive lies in tapping into three concepts represented by the acronym AWE:

  • A = Autonomy: Establish control and self-determination
  • W = Why: Link tasks to meaningful values
  • E = Establish choice: Make a small decision, then act on it

1.  Autonomy

A prerequisite to motivation is the belief that one has some degree of control over  actions, choices, and environment. When people believe they are in control, they work harder and push themselves more.

 “Autonomy is our human need to perceive we have choices. It is our need to feel that what we are doing is of our own volition. It is our perception that we are the source of our actions.”  ~ Susan Fowler, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging

As adults, we never lose the need for autonomy. Productivity significantly increases for blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants who are given the ability to stop the line. So does the productivity of white-collar workers in major investment banks who report a high sense of autonomy.

A sense of autonomy is so crucial to human needs that people who believe they have control over themselves often live longer than their peers.

2. "Why?" Link Purpose and Value to Tasks

If you want to stir up motivation and energy, ask yourself why a task is important. Why should you do this? Then ask the "So what?" question five times, drilling down to core values about why even the smallest of chores will lead to important results.

Unless you know the big picture reasons for doing something, you won’t be self-motivated. Knowing the "why" behind a task can turn any chore into a meaningful challenge because you associate it with a purpose, passion, or desire to be of service to others. It is often easier to make efforts for friends or family or for a cause greater than ourselves.

3. Establish Choice, Then Act

One way we prove to ourselves that we have control is by choosing and making decisions. To create self-motivation, take advantage of opportunities to make choices which provide a sense of self-determination.

This suggests an easy method to trigger the energy: find a choice; make almost any choice that allows you to exert control. For example, if you need to write an article, make a list of possible subtopics you want to cover. Or start by writing the conclusion. Whatever small choice you make will start the project and generate self-motivation and energy.

It’s the feeling of self-determination that gets us going. When we can link it to why it matters, to our noble values and sense of meaning, it is even more powerful.

There’s a lot of truth and wisdom in the 1930s Serenity Prayer that can be applied to almost any situation:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

The Inner Game of Leaders: Battle of the Two Selves

In his books on the Inner Game, author Tim Gallwey introduces the idea of Self 1 and Self 2.

These "selves" exist in everyone, whether we’re giving or receiving a message. Self 1 is the “big ego”: the know-it-all. Self 1 is judgmental, concerned with winning, being right and showing off.

Self 2 is the wise one—the real human being with inherent potential, including the ability to learn, grow and enjoy life.

When we act from Self 2, we are receptive and neutral. We observe and listen without any preconceived ideas. We are relaxed, focused, and able to take in and use information. We trust ourselves to make appropriate decisions. We extend trust to others because we act from a place of security and safety.

Self 1 doesn’t trust. It acts from a place of insecurity and fear because it’s always judging itself and others, while focusing on being right and winning. Self 1 uses pressure and high standards to get the most out of itself and others. Because Self 1 doesn’t trust natural abilities, it’s critical and stressed.

When coaching executives, I hear these two selves in evidence when clients share inner thoughts. 

The Critical Voice

Guess which "Self" interferes with high performance? In everything from sports and music to work and relationships, Self 1’s stress and anxiety prevent high-performance results. With worry and lost confidence, we think about too many things at once, we tighten up, and we hit the ball into the net. That which we fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s a vicious cycle—one that the inner game urges us to circumvent. Doing so involves nothing more than observing nonjudgmentally. Don’t change anything for a while. Just observe yourself talking, listening and doing. Become acutely aware of feelings and responses. Nothing more. Just watch and learn.

You’ll soon see how Self 1 is active all the time, injecting opinions and criticisms. Self 1 distorts reality because it has an agenda: maintaining control and appearing successful.

Once you quiet Self 1’s voice, Self 2 becomes more authentic. It will know what to say in ways that are much more effective and influential to others. It doesn’t have an agenda.

Nonjudgmental Awareness

Author Tim Gallwey’s inner game is based on three principles:

  1. Awareness
  2. Trust
  3. Choice

First, nonjudgmental awareness is curative, allowing you to trust yourself and others. Awareness sets up the conditions for primary learning choices.

The next time you need people to act, communicate your message nonjudgmentally. Show trust in others. Let people choose what needs to be done to accomplish desired results.

I’d love to hear from you; you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

Coach the Inner Game: Leading with the Right Stuff

In my work as a coach, I find that the stuff of character is the hardest, yet most significant, aspect of leadership development. Professional leadership coaching is the most effective way to approach leadership development, coupled with robust assessments and feedback surveys.

Even the most conservative estimates show a five to seven times return on investment from leadership coaching (Price Waterhouse, ICF study). But coaching success depends on the relationship between leader and coach. The coaching relationship must provide a secure environment to explore character strengths and beliefs.

Whether applied to sports or work, the inner game is where we begin to understand ourselves and make key changes. The concept is neither new nor particularly revolutionary, but based on a profound concept: focusing attention without judgment.

When you learn to observe behavior (your own and others’) without criticism, you’ll start to see where change is possible. Removing judgment facilitates change.

The Coach as Nonjudgmental Partner

Communication skills, like listening and observing, are automatic and unconscious. Everyone knows how to do them. Yet, in my experience, we don’t always listen and observe well, without judgment—a requirement for achieving desirable outcomes from conversations.

Leaders experience ineffective conversations all the time. When people don’t respond to their suggestions as delivered, they’re repeated louder or with different words. The outcome is resistance.

I find that few people enjoy being told what to do, especially when the boss comes across as critical or judgmental. As a leader with authority, you’ll be perceived as controlling and dictatorial. It doesn’t matter how well intentioned you may be.

What’s your opinion or experience? Have you worked with a dictatorial boss? Or experienced a coach who was nonjudgmental? I’d love to hear from you; you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

The Inner Game of Leadership Revisited

The most challenging part of growing brilliant leaders who will thrive in 21st century business is coaching the inner game of leadership. Today’s leaders must adapt to rapidly changing demands, continually growing character strengths that bolster their functional capacities to lead effectively.

All effective leaders learn to master the C-suite competencies: setting strategic direction; communicating an inspiring mission; understanding financial data; planning and coordinating resources; and ensuring that processes, systems and people achieve results.

While most leadership development efforts focus on these responsibilities, they’re ultimately insufficient. Great leaders must address the inner game of leadership. However, what I find in my coaching practice is that often leaders gravitate toward the competencies they’re most familiar with, things like finances, strategy, or processes rather than any "soft skills."

What Is the Inner Game?

The inner game consists of character traits like honesty, passion, vision, risk-taking, compassion, courage, authenticity, collaboration, self-awareness, humility, intuition and wisdom. This lengthy list may seem like a tall order for training and development, but the inner game of leadership consists of the core values for authentic leadership.

The “inner game” concept became popular 15 to 20 years ago. Sports coach and consultant Tim Gallwey coined the term in The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Work, and his ideas have proved to be timeless.

Inner Mastery Required

The results that we produce in the outer world are driven by what goes on inside our heads. The mental models we create for ourselves are based on our own limited experiences, often-erroneous beliefs and even fears. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it’s hard to think beyond the boundaries of our current realities.

When we learn to change our thinking by improving our inner game, we modify our behaviors and the results we achieve.

A fear of failure, for example, interferes with your ability to take risks. You may wait until you have enough data to assure certainty. But in today’s business world, waiting for certainty may mean missing the boat. When you avoid risk and play it too safe, you fall victim to missed opportunities.

Effective leaders weigh the risks and decide when to act, despite ambiguity and uncertainty. Their level of awareness allows them to master the inner and outer worlds.

You cannot master the outer game of leadership without inner proficiencies. The inner game has more to do with character, courage and conviction than with competencies. It’s an ability to act when situations are complex, volatile and ambiguous. This is the “right stuff” of leadership: wisdom, self-knowledge, social intelligence and solid grounding in personal values.

What’s your inner game like? Are you actively engaging with your coach to help you develop character strengths? I’d love to hear from you; you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

The Inner Game of Leadership

Effective leaders master the C-suite competencies: setting strategic direction; communicating an inspiring mission; understanding financial data; planning and coordinating resources; and ensuring that processes, systems and people achieve results.

Most leadership-development efforts focus on these responsibilities, but they’re ultimately insufficient. Great leaders must address the inner game of leadership.

The inner game consists of character traits like honesty, passion, vision, risk-taking, compassion, courage, authenticity, collaboration, self-awareness, humility, intuition and wisdom. This lengthy list may seem like a tall order for training and development programs, but it covers the core essentials for authentic leadership.

The “inner game” concept became popular 15 to 20 years ago. Sports coach and consultant Tim Gallwey coined the term in The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Work, and his ideas have proved to be timeless.

Inner Mastery Required

The results that we produce in the outer world are driven by what goes on inside our heads. The mental models we create for ourselves are based on our own limited experiences, often-erroneous beliefs and even fears. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it’s hard to think beyond the boundaries of our current realities.

When we learn to change our thinking by improving our inner game, we modify our behaviors and the results we achieve.

A fear of failure, for example, interferes with your ability to take risks. You may wait until you have enough data to assure certainty. But in today’s business world, waiting for certainty may mean missing the boat. When you avoid risk and play it too safe, you fall victim to missed opportunities.

Effective leaders weigh the risks and decide when to act, despite ambiguity and uncertainty. Their level of awareness allows them to master their inner and outer worlds.

You cannot master the outer game of leadership without inner proficiencies. The inner game has more to do with character, courage and conviction than with competencies. It’s an ability to act when situations are complex, volatile and ambiguous. This is the “right stuff” of leadership: wisdom, self-knowledge, social intelligence and solid grounding in personal values.

Coaching the Right Stuff

The stuff of character is the hardest, yet most significant, aspect of leadership development. Professional leadership coaching is the most effective way to approach leadership development, coupled with robust assessments and feedback surveys.

Even the most conservative estimates show a five to seven times return on investment from leadership coaching (Price Waterhouse, ICF study). But coaching success depends on the relationship between leader and coach. The coaching relationship must provide a secure environment to explore character strengths and beliefs.

Whether applied to sports or work, the inner game is where we begin to understand ourselves and make key changes. The concept is neither new nor particularly revolutionary, but based on a profound concept: focusing attention without judgment. When you learn to observe behavior (your own and others’) without criticism, you’ll start to see where change is possible. Removing judgment facilitates change.

The Coach as Nonjudgmental Partner

Some communication skills, like listening and observing, are automatic and unconscious. Everyone knows how to do them. Yet, we don’t always listen and observe well, without judgment—a requirement for achieving desirable outcomes from conversations.

Leaders experience ineffective conversations all the time. When people don’t respond to their suggestions as delivered, they’re repeated louder or with different words. The outcome is resistance.

Few people enjoy being told what to do, especially when the boss is critical or judgmental. As a leader with authority, you’ll be perceived as controlling and dictatorial. It doesn’t matter how well intentioned you may be.

Battle of the Two Selves

In his books on the inner game, Gallwey introduces the idea of Self 1 and Self 2. These "selves" exist in everyone, whether we’re giving or receiving a message. Self 1 is the “big ego”: the know-it-all. Self 1 is judgmental, concerned with winning, being right and showing off.

Self 2 is the wise one—the real human being with inherent potential, including the ability to learn, grow and enjoy life.

When we act from Self 2, we are receptive and neutral. We observe and listen without any preconceived ideas. We are relaxed, focused, and able to take in and use information. We trust ourselves to make appropriate decisions. We extend trust to others because we act from a place of security and safety.

Self 1 doesn’t trust. It acts from a place of insecurity and fear because it’s always judging itself and others, while focusing on being right and winning. Self 1 uses pressure and high standards to get the most out of itself and others. Because Self 1 doesn’t trust natural abilities, it’s critical and stressed.

Guess which Self interferes with high performance? In everything from sports and music to work and relationships, Self 1’s stress and anxiety prevent high-performance results. With worry and lost confidence, we think about too many things at once, we tighten up, and we hit the ball into the net. That which we fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s a vicious cycle—one that the inner game urges us to circumvent. Doing so involves nothing more than observing nonjudgmentally. Don’t change anything for a while. Just observe yourself talking, listening and doing. Become acutely aware of feelings and responses. Nothing more. Just watch and learn.

You’ll soon see how Self 1 is active all the time, injecting opinions and criticisms. Self 1 distorts reality because it has an agenda: maintaining control and appearing successful.

Once you quiet Self 1’s voice, Self 2 becomes more authentic. It will know what to say in ways that are much more effective and influential to others. It doesn’t have an agenda.

Gallwey’s inner game is based on three principles:

  1. Awareness
  2. Trust
  3. Choice

First, nonjudgmental awareness is curative, allowing you to trust yourself and others. Awareness sets up the conditions for primary learning choices.

The next time you need people to act, communicate your message nonjudgmentally. Show trust in others. Let people choose what needs to be done to accomplish desired results.

The Growth Mindset of an Effective Leader

What distinguishes great leaders from their mediocre colleagues?

Leaders with a growth mindset use every challenge as a learning goal.

Some leaders focus almost exclusively on performance. Others emphasize growth and learning, as well as results. In a horse race, put your money on the leader who defines both learning and performance goals.

Many managers and leaders are performance-driven. They have lists that highlight what they intend to achieve each quarter, often involving numbers:

  • Exceed sales results by 5%.
  • Increase bonuses by 10% by year’s end.
  • Improve team productivity by 25%.
  • Increase shareholder value.
  • Decrease customer complaints.

They judge their worth by whether they’ve achieved these goals, and they hold their people to the same standards.

Unfortunately, these leaders are likely missing key factors that restrict their potential: a growth mindset and the ability to set and pursue learning goals for themselves and others.

“The desire to learn is as fundamental to our being as the desire to survive and to enjoy.” ~ Gallwey, The Inner Game of Work

Learning goals include:

  • Diminish feelings of stress.
  • Enhance listening skills.
  • Develop empathy skills.
  • Improve coaching skills.
  • Facilitate more cohesive team-building.

Performance goals are, of course, necessary for achieving bottom-line results. But keep in mind that the bar is constantly being raised. How do you keep increasing your capacity to perform? If you cannot improve your capabilities, you’re unable to keep up. Learning goals represent the inner game you must work on to prevent stagnation.

Performance vs. Learning Goals

Every learning goal contributes to future performance. In a performance-driven culture, achievement is overestimated at the expense of learning.

But it’s not easy to set learning goals, as a bit of humility is necessary. You must acknowledge the need to learn and grow. You must clarify which goals have the most leverage.

Also potentially difficult is identifying where and how learning will take place. Obviously, work itself provides the best laboratory. Cooperation from others is also needed.

Ask yourself these questions to refine your goals:

  1. What do I need to learn to enhance my performance?
  2. Where and with whom can I ask questions and practice these skills?
  3. Who can help me?
  4. Which resources are available to me?
  5. How do I like to learn and grow?

Follow these steps to expand your inner game:

  • Set learning goals with a coach to achieve clarity and develop an action plan.
  • After implementing your action plan, debrief the learning experience with your coach to maximize change.

Inner Leadership

To develop your inner game, keep these points in mind:

  • Professional leadership coaching provides a platform for learning inner leadership.
  • Self 1’s ego interferes with Self 2’s inherent wisdom.
  • Nonjudgmental awareness is curative.
  • Learning and performance goals will prepare you for the future’s increasing demands.