Image of a chain-linked fence with a blurry sunset in the background

At Novus Global, we believe every leader faces the same top two challenges in leadership.

It’s not the budget.

It’s not time.

It’s not the market or lack of interest of the people we’re trying to lead.

Here are every leader’s top two leadership challenges with no exceptions:

1. Every leader drastically underestimates what they are capable of.

2. Every leader drastically underestimates what their team is capable of.

We use this as a litmus test for whether or not we’re a good fit for a client or company. If they resonate with the statements above and recognize that these are the most fundamental challenges in leadership, then we can probably create magic together. If they disagree, we’re probably not a good fit for them. And what we’re really talking about here is the difference between a growth mindset and fixed mindset.

This article is all about how to overcome these two fundamental challenges in leadership. In order to get there, you’ll need to understand a concept we use at Novus Global called an Intuitive Fence.™ This will lead to some critical growth mindset questions that can take you and your coaching clients to the next level of effectiveness.

What Is an “Intuitive Fence”?  

Think of an Intuitive Fence as a circle.

Inside the circle are things you think are possible.

Outside the circle are things you think are impossible. 

The closer you are to the center of the circle, the more possible things seem to you. The closer you get to the edge of the circle—the fence—the less possible things seem to you. And if you cross the fence—move from the inside the circle to outside the circle—things occur to you as not possible. And that’s your Intuitive Fence.

One of the challenges in leadership improvement is to do a better job of recognizing what is actually impossible, and what isn’t. What that really means is doing a better job of not underestimating yourself, or your team. And in terms of growth mindset and fixed mindset, it means asking actionable growth mindset questions and realizing that most goals are not truly impossible, if you are willing to change and reorganize yourself or your organization to meet them.

An Example of the Intuitive Fence Thought Process

Here is an example of how your Intuitive Fence plays out in the real world: Let’s take how much you think you’re going to make this year. Personal income growth, or revenue growth for one’s business, are one of the most frequent challenges in leadership that executive coaches hear about from their clients.

Let’s put you in the hot seat: Imagine that making $30,000 a year for you is way inside your Intuitive Fence. You would probably agree that this number is totally possible for you—maybe you’re already clearing $30,000 right now.

But as that number goes up ($40,000; $80,000, etc.) it becomes less possible until you get to the edge of your fence (say, $150,000 a year). This is where the growth mindset and fixed mindset trade places, and the possible becomes impossible. This is the property line of the Intuitive Fence.

If I were to ask most people reading this, “Will you make $10 million dollars this year?” not only will most of us say “No” but we’ll say, “That’s not even realistic for me,” which is another way of saying, “That’s not possible for me.”

That’s because the idea of making $10 million in the next year exists outside our Intuitive Fence. See how that works? This is one of the two fundamental challenges in leadership that we mentioned: underestimating what you are capable of.

“Will you make $10 million dollars this year?” isn’t asking the impossible. It’s a growth mindset question that has many possible, viable answers. Most of these answers don’t even have to lead to actually making the $10 million this year. The true accomplishment isn’t in reaching the goal itself, but in reinventing yourself to be able to realistically and passionately pursue the goal. Meeting the challenges in leadership and growth that we set for ourselves is really all about a journey of seeing what’s possible.

Getting Defensive Is a Failure Mode

We all get defensive at the thought of doing “the impossible,” even when “the impossible” isn’t impossible at all. The problem is that most of us think our Intuitive Fence is a fact. Have you ever tried to convince someone that something they thought was unrealistic was actually possible? Usually when we try to do this, people get defensive, argumentative, and do what they can to convince you you’re wrong. Even if you know for a fact they could do it. They’ll still argue with you.

It is one of the key challenges in leadership not to fight the battle on these terms. Their defensiveness is the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. What they are doing is making a defense of their reality in order to protect their sense of self-worth and agency. When you tell them they can do the impossible, they hear, “You’re asking me to fail and humiliate myself.”

It’s incredibly frustrating to see people get defensive like this, and it’s one of the most iconic challenges in leadership successfulness. A true leader avoids getting their people defensive in the first place, or becoming defensive themselves when challenged. Defensiveness is a failure mode. It’s a terrible way to meet challenges, solve problems, or move forward.

Good Coaching Helps People Escape the Defensiveness Loop to Imagine a More Realistic Intuitive Fence

Of course, we shouldn’t be too hard on others for getting defensive, because most of the time we’re exactly the same way. It’s human nature. That’s why defensiveness is one of the most ubiquitous challenges in leadership. Have you ever had someone try to tell you that something you were convinced is impossible is actually possible? How dare they! They don’t know your specific situation! They don’t know what you know. That’s easy for them to say!

We have all this evidence about why they’re wrong and why we’re right. We think it’s based on evidence. Facts. Truth. I’ll give you a hint: It almost never is. The most important growth mindset questions are the ones which open our eyes to this fact, pushing aside our stubbornness and egotism.

So, What’s the Answer?

The growth mindset and fixed mindset can trade places back, defusing defensiveness and getting back onto the path of learning and advancement.

Keep exploring your own growth mindset questions as we delve deeper into intuitive fences, truths, and coaching clients (and yourself) for moving beyond the zone of comfort, in Part 2 of this series on challenges in leadership style and growth.