EP 81 // The Inner Game in Leadership

Ep 81

This episode is for leaders who want to have a big impact - and who doesn’t? This is the last in a series about the first of three steps in Akua’s leadership approach: cultivating self-awareness

Despite what some might think, effective leadership is not only about performance and delivery, or what the sports world would call the “outer game .”Conscious leaders know that self-awareness and mindset, or “inner game,” are just as important and really affect every aspect of their leadership and its impact.

Today Akua looks at leadership through the lens of the “inner game approach,” an idea introduced through a book by Timothy Gallway called The Inner Game of Tennis, the Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance. She’ll talk about the methodology and how it perfectly applies to the business world and how you can use it to increase your influence and leadership impact.

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What's Covered in this Episode About Conscious Leadership

  • There are three dimensions to the inner game, awareness, alertness, and focus.
  • Like sports, leadership starts on the inside; you can lose before you even set foot on the court or boardroom if you’re not in the right frame of mind.
  • Business is full of paradoxes, tensions, and dualities. When you get conflicting information about leadership, remember there is no one “right way” to be. 
  • Find out how a leadership coach can guide you in getting your inner game into peak performance mode.

Quotes from this Episode of Open Door Conversations

  • "Leadership is connected with the deepest parts of ourselves. If we don't pay attention to our inner game, there is no way that we can overcome normal human tendencies." - Akua Nyame-Mensah
  • "Creating time to work on your inner game will allow you to develop inner security for better decision making be more open and trusting within your relationships, handle conflict effectively, and ultimately support you with building mental health, creating space to have better physical health and being open to examine your emotional health." - Akua Nyame-Mensah
  • "Burnout is also about losing your why and your purpose, right. Burnout is also about not tapping into your inner game to understand how you're feeling, and the things that are important to you." - Akua Nyame-Mensah

Mentioned in The Inner Game in Leadership

Get to Know the Host of the Open Door Conversations Podcast

Learn more about your host, Akua Nyame-Mensah.

Akua is a certified executive and leadership coach, recognized learning and organizational development facilitator, speaker, and former startup executive. 

Since 2018, she has had the opportunity to partner with amazing organizations, from high-growth startups to multinational brands all around the world, to maximize people, performance, and profit.  Outside of her coaching and corporate speaking engagements, she is a regular mentor, coach, and judge for various entrepreneurship-focused organizations.

Stay in touch with Akua Nyame-Mensah, Leadership & Culture Advisor:

  • Read about Akua’s services if you’d like to learn more about how you can hire her to help you strengthen your organization’s culture.

  • Complete her contact form to jump on a call.

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Here’s the transcript for episode 81 about The Inner Game in Leadership

NOTE: Please excuse any errors in this transcript; it was created using an AI tool. Akua Nyame-Mensah 0:00 Leadership is connected with the deepest parts of ourselves. If we don't pay attention to our inner game, there is no way that we can overcome normal human tendencies, such as being reluctant to get outside our comfort zone, deal with overwhelm properly overcome firefighting to perform, make money making decisions, deliver on difficult targets, or even consider the concept of influence. Creating time to work on your inner game will allow you to develop inner security for better decision making be more open and trusting within your relationships, handle conflict effectively, and ultimately support you with building mental health, creating space to have better physical health and being open to examine your emotional health. Hello, and welcome to the open door conversations podcast. My name is a Korea Nyame-Mensah. I also respond to Aqua and Akua. I'm a certified executive and leadership coach recognised learning and organisational development facilitator, speaker and former startup executive. And I am so excited because this year I'm celebrating five years of working for myself five years of supporting leaders. And I am so grateful because I've had the opportunity to partner with amazing organisations from high growth startups to multinational brands all around the world. In 2022. Alone, I serve over 600 Yes, over 600 leaders around the world. And in this podcast, you will have the opportunity to learn my three step leadership framework. I actually break it down in Episode 71. I use this framework with my high achieving and entrepreneurial minded clients that are juggling a million responsibilities so they can easily build wealth. This three step framework is going to teach you how to leverage your innate personality to learn how to prioritise and maximise not just your time, but also your money. You don't have to work harder or turn into someone else. To get more done. Let's tune into this week's episode. Welcome back. Today's episode is the last in my series about the first step of my three step leadership approach the importance of cultivating your self awareness. In my last solo episode, I talked about influence, and the importance of understanding how leadership is influence. Today, I want to bring it all together to talk about the inner game, why your inner game and your inner game is what's inside of you how you think, how you feel, and how you know what it's true. All of that impacts your outer game. And your outer game is your performance, what you're able to deliver what other people see your behaviours, the impact that you have. And I know for many of you listening to this, you want to have an impact. And that's why understanding your inner game, and creating time to engage with your inner game will allow you to do that I have a few episodes already that I think are relevant to considering your inner game. And this can include things around bias, limiting beliefs, the stories we tell ourselves, I'll make sure I link those in the show notes. And if this is the first episode that you're listening to ever, please make sure you go back to episode number 71. To get started, because this is a series that I'm putting together all about the three steps, the three components, all leaders, especially conscious leaders need to keep in mind. So let's get back into talking about the inner game. Where does this concept come from? I actually really enjoyed doing a bit of research about this. And it came from not surprisingly, sports. There's a lot of work, a lot of research a lot of things within leadership that really do borrow from athletics and sports. So for those of you who don't know, I actually grew up playing a lot of sports. I still love playing pickup sports. And so I love this extended metaphor. And I have seen an experience firsthand how you can beat yourself up mentally. And that's that inner game piece. Even before stepping onto the football field, or the track or the pitch. I grew up mostly playing football or soccer. So I probably will refer to the pitch or the football field primarily, right? So the inner game is about losing something in your mind before you win or lose it in reality, and it's something that was sort of created by a tennis player and coach W Timothy Galloway and hopefully I'm saying that correctly, and he has a book that's called the inner game of tennis, the classic guide to the mental side of peak performance. And this book came out in the 1970s, where a lot of people viewed sport as a purely physical matter. And I'm sure you also at a point in your career thought of leadership as purely around performing poorly around delivering and performing. And you probably are thinking that it includes more than that. And that's why you're listening to this. When it came to high performance. Galloway had three basic tips, I think, are very relevant to leaders, he said, there are three dimensions, and he sort of drew it out as a triangle that are important for all athletes. And I think this is something that all leaders can also keep in mind. So we talked about awareness, alertness, and focus. And so when I was doing my research, there was also something called relaxed concentration. And I think that is related to the concept of alertness. That's how I see it, that's how I choose to look at it, you're welcome to do some of your own research as well. I did not read his book, I will say, but I'm pretty sure a lot of this is still very relevant. And so this is my translation based on my leadership lens, right, how I choose to typically see the world awareness, I think, is pretty much the same. But maybe we could think of this concept of alertness or relaxed concentration as situational awareness, or acumen, right. And if you want to know a little bit more about acumen, please listen to my influence episode that I did, I think it's the previous episode to this one, if you want to break down of what acumen is, but I do think it's important to consider it. So my translation based on my leadership lens is that awareness is pretty much the same. So I also have that cultivate awareness piece in my three step leadership method or approach that maybe what he calls alertness, we can call that situational awareness, or acumen, and if you want to learn a little bit more about what acumen is, please listen to my influence episode, where I break that down, and how important it is for leaders, especially conscious leaders to consider. And then of course, that last dimension, that last piece of the triangle, I think it's the same. And that is focus, right? So the three things that leaders maybe can glean from, you know, this work from this tennis coach and tennis player is that leadership can include awareness, situational awareness, and that was that alertness piece, and then, of course, the importance of focus. But here are Galloway's inner game tips. So number one, let go of over coaching yourself during competition, and said, You have to trust your body to perform and become a performer. And I love this. And I think that this is so important to consider, as you're going in to make decisions as you're going in to make presentations and engage with all different types of people, there's an element of sort of practice makes perfect almost in this and that you just need to allow things to sometimes happen, not necessarily over curate it. That's not to say you shouldn't have a plan B or think through things. But don't overcoat yourself. And keep in mind that a lot of it starts in your head. The second tip that he has is have a clear intention or awareness of what your goal is, and let go of the need to impress others or play well, for teammates. This is so good. And I think this is something that leaders really need to consider, because we have so many different stakeholders that we tend to want to please that it can end up being overwhelming. So getting really clear on what's important, right? What's your why, what are those end goals that you're trying to hit can make it so much easier for you to have those Win Win conversations, and most importantly, influence. Last but not least, number three, practice to feel the movement and ingrain what you feel transfer instructional techniques into simple feelings your body understands easily. I love this one once again. And maybe it's actually related, I think to this first Elementor, this first sort of translation that comes to mind when I think of these inner game tips. And that's really, you know, where we're thinking about practice makes perfect, right? It just sort of just comes naturally. And just really allowing yourself to break things down in a way that makes sense for you. And then of course, to break things down for whatever audience you're a part of. So that's an element of this podcast episode that I just wanted to share. And just talk a little bit about where this inner game idea comes from. As I mentioned before, it comes from sports, it comes from athletics, it comes from specifically tennis, where it's really, really important that you don't beat yourself up mentally, and that you can lose before going into a board meeting before having a difficult conversation before engaging a client. And so it's so important that you're creating that space so that you're mentally, physically and emotionally available and present. Now that I've shared those tips, what I'd love to get into are the three biggest themes that I've seen with leaders as it relates to the inner game. I've worked with hundreds of leaders all around the world. And I think that we are all so much more alike than we like to Believe definitely there are some differences. There's some cultural differences, differences and environments, maybe differences and resources available. But ultimately, I think that everyone could spend a bit of time and energy creating space to really focus on their inner game. But these three themes that I tend to see a lot, and recently, I actually even saw doing a sort of intake call with a potential client. So number one, feeling like there's a one right way forward. And I think one of the things that conscious leaders learn, and leaders who have a good grasp of their inner game learn is that leadership is about paradoxes, tensions and dualities. Okay, theme number two, that they only need to focus on the outer game. And once again, the outer game is performance behaviours, how other people perceive you. And though the outer game is important, right, it's not sustainable. And I'll talk a little bit more about that in a bit. On the last theme I tend to see with the leaders that I've supported, and the things I've read is that leaders try to do it all on their own, and feel like they can't get any help, or they're the only ones struggling with something. And I think these three themes make it difficult for leaders to create time and give energy to really understanding their inner game, right. And it's important to understand our inner game, because that's what's actually going to drive our outer game at the end of the day. So let's talk about this first theme. Leadership is all about paradoxes, tensions and dualities. So there shouldn't be one right way forward, everyone's going to give you a different approach, a different thought, a different idea. And that's why it's so important for you to have your own inner compass, and your own ideas about what's right and wrong, and of course, an understanding of the environment or context that you're in. So I'm a coach slash facilitator in this global programme right now. And I think one of the biggest lessons a lot of the participants keep talking about and bringing up is how there's so many contradictions and tensions and what they do day to day. So for example, you know, they want to perform they want to deliver, but at the same time, they feel like there needs to be some sort of transformation or some sort of culture change, right? So what do you do first, what happens first, can they happen at the same time, so that's one tension or duality. Another one or another example that I can come up with, based on the clients I've had a chance to work with is sort of wanting to be focused on the here and now right, wanting to be present, make the most of the present time, but also wanting to be strategic and future thinking as well. And recognising that that's also important, right, knowing what's happening next, wanting to project wanting to think about goals that happen into the future. And this last one here, and this is something I see with a lot of founders, especially new founders, is that wanting to do right by their employees versus delighting customers or bending to investor demands, right. As a leader, no matter where you are, what level you're at what title you have, there's going to be competing pressures, there's going to be so many different ways in which you can show up and different stakeholders wanting different things. And that's why all these situations require that you are aware and clear about your priorities, your values, and also how you feel because how you feel is going to impact how you show up and ultimately behave. And that is that outer game piece. And if we think back to some of those Galloway inner game tips, or that triangle, right, it's really having that awareness, that alertness, that situational awareness of acumen, right and focus, where you're going to really be able to come to some decision, right? And once again, there's no right or wrong answer, especially as we talk about these dualities and tensions. But you're gonna be able to come to a decision that you're gonna be able to communicate effectively and influence others if you take the time to really think about your inner game and build up that inner game muscle. And so as I think about this first theme of leadership being about paradoxes, and some leaders feeling like there's one right way forward, you know, the first step is really making sure you take the time to reflect on those dualities, right, acknowledging the fact that, hey, this is not easy. There's two sorts of things that are potentially pulling us or pushing us, but how can I create time to engage with both elements and come to conclusion about how do I want to move forward? Okay, so that's really the first theme. And I think something that all conscious leaders keep in mind that there's no one right way forward, and that leadership is full of contradictions and paradoxes. The second theme I have on here is that leaders sometimes feel like they only need to focus on the outer game. They only need to focus on what other people see. And what happens is, if you only focus on this, it's going to feel on inauthentic. It's going to feel sometimes not genuine, and I think other people will quickly see it. One of the things I always talk about you've probably heard me say this on the podcast is it's not only what You say, but how you say it right? And actually your actions and your behaviours, and how you show up. And people do see that. And so if you focus on the outer game, only, it's gonna be really difficult to influence and potentially bring people along. It's also incredibly tiring and you're likely to burn out, I'm pretty sure I have an episode or a blog post about burnout and how burnout is also about losing your why and your purpose, right. Burnout is also about not tapping into your inner game to understand how you're feeling, and the things that are important to you. And so if you're not building your awareness around how you think and feel, and what you believe to be true, it's so much easier for you to burn out. And so if you're just constantly thinking about performing, performing, and delivering, delivering, that's what's going to happen. And you're also likely to lack focus, because you're never taking the time to regroup, and really reflect on the bigger picture or where you're going as well, if you're just constantly delivering, you're constantly that hamster in that hamster wheel. And when we think about the last name, trying to do it all on your own, right, and feeling like you have to do it on your own, because leaders are strong, they don't need help leaders don't cry, and they just do things because they're cool like that, right? I really want you to reflect on whether or not that's serving you, I really want you to think about whether or not trying to do this all on your own makes sense. And I think creating time to reflect is really step number one, to be able to have a better outer game to be able to deliver better to be able to perform better, it first starts with you reflecting and thinking about what's coming up for me what's important to me before taking action. And if you need some help, yes, you can work with a coach like me, and I know shameless self promotion, right? Especially if you need some accountability, if you need to dive a little bit deeper, and you need some additional support, maybe breaking down some past issues or challenges that you've had, or working through some tough emotions, potentially tapping a therapist to help you with that can also help you work through some of these inner work challenges, right, these inner game challenges that are maybe blocking you or getting in the way of you having the outer game that you want, right. At the end of the day, all of this support is about helping you come up with new beliefs, new perceptions, attitudes, and ways of thinking that will get you closer to your goals, get you closer to how you define success. So in some, if you feel like you're not able to achieve as much as you want to achieve, that things are getting in the way, that you're being challenged from all the different stakeholders that are part of your environment or your organisation, I really would love for you to reflect on your inner game, because ultimately, your inner game and PACs your outer game. And if you're not getting the results that you want, you're not behaving in a way that you feel is aligned with your values. You're not showing up for others in a way that you were excited about, or is what you define as consistent. Take a listen to this podcast episode again, and really reflect on some of those questions I asked. All right, moving forward, I just wanted to let you know that we'll start talking about the second piece of my three step process related to thinking about how to show up as a conscious leader and that is engagement. And obviously we're going to start with learning how to engage with yourself and the importance of how to engage with yourself first, right? We'll be covering self regulation and how conscious leaders are effective at engaging themselves first, and that is really engaging with their emotions, their feelings, their wants, their desires, long story short, their awareness first. As always, thank you so much for taking the time to listen. If you thought that this episode was helpful, please feel free to reach out and let me know stay safe and sane. Thank you so much for listening to this week's episode, please share this episode with someone who can benefit from its contents. If you found this episode helpful, I want to ask you to leave a review. This makes it easier for other people to find my podcast and also allows me to bring on even bigger guests, and even more fascinating stories. Thank you so much for listening again. Stay safe and stay sane


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