Unlocking Your Leadership Potential: The Power of Not Taking Things Personally

As leaders, we have immense power to drive progress and transform lives. It can be heady to consider, and it’s easy for that power to go to our heads. But to truly make a lasting impact, we must embrace a mindset shift—one that involves not taking things personally.

This might seem counterintuitive, even vulnerable, but it’s a crucial step towards unleashing our full potential. We’ve all heard, “It’s not business, it’s personal.” But for most of us there is no wall dividing our professional lives from the rest of us; it IS indeed personal, or at least it feels that way when we are operating in default mode. So, let’s dive into why it’s essential and explore actionable strategies to overcome personalization and become more effective leaders.

The spiritual teacher and author Michael Singer once said, “Every moment has nothing to do with you.” It’s a lesson that admittedly took me much longer to learn than I would have liked.

When we take things personally, we harm our own performance and relationships. This is an area in which I think that aging is a benefit; with time and experience, we better understand that the vast majority of people aren’t thinking about us or judging us at all. Some might find that notion deflating but think about it – it means that we are free to pursue our goals without worrying about what others may make of us. And think about it further—the plain truth is that most people are too absorbed in their own challenges to intentionally target us.

By taking things personally, we make two critical mistakes: we misjudge others’ intentions and sabotage our own inner game.

Leadership is all about building relationships and influence, and nothing drives people away faster than personalizing their actions. It’s time to break free from this self-imposed barrier.

Think about this in the context of decision-making. Recall a past decision that you regret (we all have them, I certainly do). Did it stem from personalizing someone’s actions? When we take things personally, our decision-making becomes clouded. We shift from pursuing what’s best for ourselves or our organization to defending our turf. Our focus shifts from productivity to self-preservation.

But that’s not what leadership is about. We must regain clarity, confidence, and calmness. It’s time to reclaim control over our inner game.

I have seen time and again – both in clients and in myself – leaders who tend to take things personally face specific challenges. As a confirmed INFP (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception) – I understand the struggle. Sensitivity and personalization can narrow our perspective, hinder collaboration, and add unnecessary anxiety to our work.

But here’s the secret: most people have their own issues and perspectives. Their actions are rarely about us. (Think about it; how much time do you spend obsessing over the flaws of colleagues as opposed to your own?) Embracing this truth not only improves our performance but also deepens our relationships, both at work and at home.

So, how do we cultivate self-awareness and break free from personalization’s grip?

  • It starts with working on our inner game. Journaling is a powerful tool to sort through the chaos of thoughts and emotions. Spend just 5-10 minutes a day, asking yourself insightful questions. “Tell the story from the other person’s perspective.” “What can I believe about this situation to make me feel better?” Uncover the truths that will elevate your inner game. Trust me, they’re there, waiting to be discovered.

  • Maintaining objectivity during conflicts is another challenge. The key is to say less, defer immediate responses, and ask questions instead. Take a moment—a walk, a coffee break—to regain composure. Seek to learn about alternative views, even if you don’t agree. Remember, defensiveness and personalization indicate underlying issues within ourselves that need attention for personal growth.

  • Real change requires systemic transformation on an organizational level. Of course, there is only so much we can do alone. Building a culture of non-personalization and constructive communication is essential. High-performing teams thrive on difficult conversations. Encourage and facilitate these discussions, as they unveil personalization tendencies and foster understanding. Leadership coaching and training can also be game-changers in this journey.

By embracing the agreement of not taking things personally, we unlock the power to build healthier relationships and become more effective leaders. When I think of the great leaders from history who are widely revered by all corners – think of the likes of Abraham Lincoln – the common theme is that they remained steadfast in the face of criticism without personalizing it. Lincoln was quick to pursue reconciliation with the defeated South and took every opportunity to reach out to the opposition – in the face of conventional wisdom. As he put it, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

This timeless wisdom reminds me that there is power in taking the high road and in pursuing an ideal beyond self-preservation. Let’s release ourselves from the burden of taking everything personally. By reframing our mindset and consciously choosing not to take things personally, we unlock our true leadership potential. It’s a journey that requires self-awareness, resilience, and a commitment to personal growth. I’ll be the first to admit it’s not easy. But it is deeply rewarding when you commit to it.

Remember, as Michael Singer put it, every moment has nothing to do with you. And that should be a liberating thought.