Executive Coaching for Women

Executive Coaching for Women

The Fatal Flaw That Keeps Leaders Trapped

No one understands.

There’s a common phrase used in recovery circles called “terminal uniqueness” and in the case of substance addiction, it can be lethal. Unbelievably, this flawed logic also applies in leadership.

Terminal uniqueness refers to the false belief that the circumstances an addict is facing is unlike anything other addicts have experienced, and it is considered ‘terminal’ because this way of thinking is destructive. It is also referred to as “personal exceptionalism”, the belief that your situation is different, that you are the exception, or a special case. Therefore, you can’t or won’t accept interventions for help. Therefore, the addict continues to self-sabotage recovery efforts and ultimately this leads to damaging consequences.

Terminal uniqueness keeps leaders trapped in cycles of self-righteous anger and hyper focused on the wrongs of other people. As an Executive Coach, we can spot the delusion in our clients quickly and it’s our job, in service to the client, to help unearth the distorted thinking. In my own leadership story, there were many times I believed I was an exception to the rule. In fact, personal trauma in my early life was often the biggest, although unconscious, reason I used to explain bouts of low self-esteem, lack of boundaries, and severe workaholism. I felt powerless to change my leadership experience because I held onto the view that “no one grew up like I did”. Unfortunately, that’s simply not true. My upbringing while it was difficult, is not all that unique. Early trauma absolutely had a tremendous impact on my self-worth and confidence, but blaming what happened didn’t help me create the conditions for change.

Terminal Uniqueness creates a feeling of powerlessness and leads to an inability to take action.

In leadership, here’s what it can sound like:

No one knows what I have gone through to get to the CEO role.
No one struggles with the same level of anxiety I do on a day-to-day basis.
I’m not capable of slowing down. It’s just not possible at my level.
No one knows how it feels to have this level of pressure.
He doesn’t work as hard as I do. He doesn’t understand.

Of course, there are limits to our level of personal power, but it’s destructive when leaders assume that their situation is unique. Unfortunately, this feeling of powerlessness is much more common than we like to believe because it happens at the unconscious level of the mind. In my coaching work with executives, one of our very first steps is to uncover the prevailing beliefs that underlie the most pressing pain points. Terminal Uniqueness is one example of a limiting belief that distorts perception.

What are the indicators of terminal uniqueness and how can we prevent it from warping our thinking?

Terminal Uniqueness is divisive. It is the belief that your way is the only right way. In the leadership context, watch for phrases such as “that won’t work” or “no one seems to get it”. Instead, create an anchor statement that you can use such as “keep an open mind” when you feel the urge to start a sentence with “no one…” Behavioural flexibility is key to bridging the gap.

Terminal Uniqueness disregards other people’s perspectives. This leads to blocks in connection with others, worsens communication, and leads to strained relationships. Instead, see where you can find common ground. What can you agree on? Look for similarities and not differences.

Terminal Uniqueness compares and despairs. I have yet to meet a human being who doesn’t compare herself to someone else. It’s part of the human experience. However, making frequent comparisons to others breeds a me-versus-them mentality. It’s fear based and counterproductive. Instead, notice when the tendency to compare bubbles up to the surface and leverage the feelings for information by identifying the trigger. What need is being surfaced? How can I best meet that need?

Terminal Uniqueness generalizes and exaggerates. As a NLP Coach, we refer to generalized language as universal quantifiers or “absolute” language. Words such as “all, none, every, not, always, only, never”. As a coach, when we hear these words regularly, it’s a signal that the client is feeling anxious, stressed, or frustrated and may be falling into “generalization”. Instead, we ask “When you say [always] or [no one], what do you mean specifically? This question invites dialogue, exploration, and role models the importance of specificity.

Not only are symptoms of terminal uniqueness unattractive to others, more importantly, left unchecked it can also prevent you from creating and maintaining strong relationships both at work and at home. Executive Coaching helps leaders with terminal uniqueness change their way of thinking and invites real inside-out change. To get in touch with how coaching can help you or your leadership team, feel free to book a complimentary discovery call here or simply send me a DM.

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