The cycle of stuck. How leaders stunt their growth, damage their performance and limit their potential. Brighten Project Leadership Growth

Are you stuck in a leadership rut?

thought leadership Jul 03, 2023


How leaders stunt their growth, damage their performance and limit their potential.

Picture a hamster tirelessly running on a wheel, getting nowhere – that's a leader in a growth rut. Ambition? Check. Drive? Check.  BUT it's not working properly due to a few seemingly inconsequential decisions. I want to walk you through a really common cycle that I find many leaders get stuck in, where the twists and turns of informal learning, the enticing allure of quick fixes, and the relentless grind create a vicious cycle.



This leader is in their leadership role, and they're feeling SO ambitious and excited. They're ready to grow, they know they need to be a better leader than they are right now - and they WANT to do it. 



They jump into learning new skills. This is where the wheels start to come off a little bit though, because the learning isn't formalised in a way that will create healthy sustainable learning habits. The leader might jump in the deep end - like overcommitting or starting on a skill that isn't foundational and the content feels too heavy and isn't easy to apply. Alternatively, they might start off in the shallows, by not committing enough time, or by learning off shallow content sources like podcasts and social media. What happens is that they don't form learning habits, and because they aren't learning properly, the new skills aren't being evolved from theory into practise. At this point, they tend to feel a bit disheartened because the new skills aren’t creating tangible results.



The daily grind sweeps them up, and they become busy and caught up in the day to day. Their own leadership learning becomes deprioritised. They still know they need to grow as leaders, but because the learning habits aren't there, they decide to take quick fixes. Thank you Google and chatGPT. They get a couple of quick wins from these quick fixes – which spurs them on and creates a false economy. The leader starts to think "Ok this style of learning is working for me, I guess I can stop worrying about my "proper" learning habit and just stick with quick fixes".



Now the leader is starting to feel overwhelmed, they are fully stuck in the day to day. Because their leadership skills aren’t being prioritised, they aren't growing as leaders, and the quick fixes aren’t stacking up to solid long term growth. They start to feel like they're falling behind as leaders and they're not progressing as they need to be. To satisfy that need to be delivering and growing, and to compensate for the lack of leadership skill building, these leaders focus on the work. They focus on the task, the output, the actions. Their focus becomes short term.



With such a heavy focus on the ‘what’ at work and not the ‘how’ of leadership, they often don’t get the results that they need to get. They tend to be pushing themselves so hard to deliver, they become burnt out. They might receive some critical feedback and can start feeling lost, disengaged and inconsistent. These leaders might start hearing themselves complain about the same issues at work that they were challenged with months ago, reinforcing that feeling of stagnation.



There’s the panic of “I need to be a better leader, something needs to change" AND then it’s back to the start – but just with a little less excitement, a little less ambition and a little less confidence. You can see how your confidence takes a hit at every stage of this cycle of stuck.



3 Signs That You're STUCK

So, how can you tell if you're stuck in this cycle? Here are some common signs:

1. Stagnation in professional growth

You're not advancing in your leadership abilities, despite your efforts. You may feel like you're not evolving or improving, which can be disheartening.
For instance, let's consider Tessa, a team leader at a tech firm. She's enthusiastic about her role and regularly invests in leadership courses and books. Yet, she feels that she's not growing as a leader. Her team's performance hasn't improved, and her superiors' feedback suggests she needs to step up her game. Tessa is unable to see tangible results from her learning investments - so she's either learning the wrong things, not learning properly (like to shallow or too deep) OR not putting her theory into action.

2. Reactive rather than proactive learning

A clear sign of being trapped in the 'Cycle of Stuck' is if you find yourself in a reactive learning mode. This means you learn in response to immediate challenges or problems, and your learning tends to be sporadic and situation-driven rather than planned and structured.
Take Sarah, a project manager in a logistics company. She's often found googling for solutions just before meetings or frantically catching up on industry trends only when an important client meeting is due. While she does get some quick wins, this approach to learning doesn't contribute to her long-term growth as a leader.

3. Neglecting the 'how' of leadership

When you're stuck in this cycle, your focus can drift predominantly to 'what' you do at work, neglecting 'how' you do it. As a result, you might overlook essential leadership aspects such as team building, effective communication, and emotional intelligence.
Consider the case of Alex, a senior manager at a marketing agency. Alex is so engrossed in project deadlines and client deliverables that she overlooks the importance of fostering a positive team culture. She feels like spending time on team bonding or performance management isn't "her job" or as important as delivering tasks and projects. She's forgotten that being a leader - means leading is your job.


We gotta get you OUT!!!

The 'Cycle of Stuck' can have detrimental effects on your leadership journey. It can lead to frustration, underperformance, and eventually, burnout. The lack of consistent progress can make you question your capabilities and lower your self-confidence, impacting your overall effectiveness as a leader. You're not living up to your potential, and YOU KNOW IT. When you have those kinds of thoughts, not only does it suuuuuck but it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those thoughts continue to push you back into the cycle of stuck, because they fuel your anxiety and disengagement.
According to a Harvard Business Review study titled "Beat Generational Burn Out," there's a strong correlation between a lack of career progress and feelings of burnout. Leaders stuck in a cycle of underperformance and stagnation are at a higher risk of experiencing exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced efficacy at work.


Hmmm.... what now?

As we wrap up this deep dive into the cycle of being stuck, it's vital to remember that recognising the cycle is the first step to breaking it. Reflection is a powerful tool. It allows us to gain insight into our patterns and understand the impact they have on our happiness, career, and performance.

Take a moment to reflect on these questions:

πŸ€” Do you find your initial excitement and ambition fading as you try to learn new skills?
πŸ“˜ Is your learning informal and scattered, lacking a structured approach?
⏳ Do you feel swept up in the daily grind, struggling to prioritise your leadership development?
πŸ”Ž Are you relying on quick fixes instead of building a solid foundation?
πŸŒͺ️ Does overwhelm lead you to focus solely on short-term tasks and output?
😣 Are you not achieving the results you desire and facing a decline in confidence?
πŸš€ What impact is this cycle having on your future career?


If you find yourself answering 'yes' to these questions, you may be caught in this cycle. But here’s the good news: you have the power to break free!

πŸ’₯ Next week, join me as we dive into the Cycle of Success. We will uncover strategies and tips to break you out of this vicious cycle and embark on a path of sustainable growth and leadership excellence.

Don’t let the cycle of being stuck define your leadership journey. Take the reins and chart your course to success. I’m excited to share the secrets of breaking the cycle with you.

Stay tuned! 🌟


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