Leadership roadblocks: can you break through?

By Thresette Briggs

“That’s it. This team has too many issues and I’m tired of dealing with them.”

Several years ago, I was assigned to coach an executive who made this statement during our third meeting. She was extremely frustrated about what she felt was a horrible team she’d inherited.

My response was what every performance coach I know would say, to help a leader focus on problem-solving and not giving up. 

“What are the issues and what have you tried so far?”

She looked at me with her mouth wide open. 

“I’ve tried talking to them about what they need to do.”

When a leader refers to their team as them and they, it’s not good. I probed further. 

“How did those conversations go?”

“They made lots of excuses about their issues.” 

“Excuses about their issues?” 

“Yes. Excuses about why they can’t do what I ask.”

“Have you asked your team what they need to accomplish your ask?”

“No, I haven’t,” she said and looked directly at me. “They don’t know what they need.”

Our conversation continued for several minutes and resulted in her agreeing to take a leadership assessment that helped her identify areas affecting her and her team. I helped her develop a strategy and focus on exploring options for helping her team; abandoning her original thoughts of giving up. In the next two years she went on to lead the team to great success. 

Merriamwebster.com defines a breakthrough as an act or instance of moving through or beyond an obstacle. Based on this definition, the leader I coached achieved a breakthrough because she was able to get beyond the original obstacle she faced with her team. 

Leaders across the globe face roadblocks every day. If you lead in any capacity you have likely faced one or twenty. Whether it was a small, medium or large one, you have been impacted. 

It’s clear that roadblocks will happen and it’s important to be prepared. For over 20 years I’ve worked with leaders and teams on moving through roadblocks during transformations, turnarounds and even one bankruptcy.  What I’ve learned is that they surface even in the best cultures. What’s more important to understand is how you face them. In other words, do you let the roadblock stop you, or can you break through? 

Here are three tips to break through leadership roadblocks you’re sure to encounter:

1. Admit the Real Roadblock.

We can easily identify when a roadblock is from an external source, using words like “they,” “them” and “those.” Breaking through it successfully depends on your ability to acknowledge where it’s really coming from. In the case of the leader I coached, she felt it was her team. 

But as we dug deeper she realized where the roadblock really was. She was convinced that her team was no good and had stopped seeking solutions. When she focused on identifying solutions the team needs and sought their voice, she realized she could move beyond the real roadblock — her own mindset.

2. Use the Right Tools to Move Through.

Picture pushing against a locked door with just your hands. Is it going to open so you can go through it? No! The tool you need to open it is a key. Trying to open it with any other tool would not make sense. By identifying the right tools, you can accelerate your progress. 

Breaking through your leadership roadblock successfully also provides a model that you can leverage over and over, and it demonstrates growth and development for your team. Teams like to see their leaders go first — be willing to explore multiple tools to show your team how using them can provide maximum success.

3. Be Willing to do What’s Necessary.

This is perhaps the most difficult tip to follow, although it seems simple. We want what we want, but what are we willing to do to achieve it? An article in Inc. magazine says 92 percent of people don’t achieve their goals. What do the 8 percent who achieve their goals do differently?

The process of the 8 percent requires being passionate and committed to the end. Your level of commitment must be intrinsic inspiration to do whatever is necessary to shift your behaviors and overcome the roadblock.  

By putting these tips into action, you can  significantly improve your ability to breakthrough your leadership roadblocks. 

Thresette Briggs is the founder of Performance 3, a national leadership and professional development firm.