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All leaders get stuck. I know this because I’ve interviewed over 100 leaders in 35 cities and 12 countries about their experiences with being stuck. Through these conversations, I learned that those who were most successful at getting and staying unstuck did so by entering what I call an expansive state.

When we’re in an expansive state, we’re grounded in core values, but open to new ideas, situations and people. From here, we experience heightened creativity and energy. In other words, we’re decidedly unstuck.

Here’s how you can get and stay unstuck in 2020.

Make friends with fear

At the root of all stuckness is fear. And because of the way our brains evolved, fear is tricky. The most primitive parts of our brains can’t tell the difference between the danger of a tiger leaping out of the jungle and the danger of giving a big budget presentation tomorrow morning. We experience both with the same intensity.

We’re wired for fear, and it’s not going anywhere, so we might as well be friends with it. Expansive leaders are curious about their fear. They notice when it arises, but resist the urge to identify with it.

The next time you feel afraid, rather than thinking, “I’m afraid”, simply tell yourself, “there is fear”. This creates space between you and your emotions. Now you can differentiate. Is there a tiger? Or is it just a feeling?

Get clear on your values

Expansive leaders are guided by highly developed values systems. They don’t allow these values to be imposed upon them by outside forces, but instead do the emotional work required to arrive at the qualities of life and character that are core to who they are as people. This provides them with inner fortification, so when challenges arise, they’re able to continue to operate and make decisions effectively.

What are your values? Well, the clues are everywhere. They’re in the things you like to do, the times you find yourself in a state of flow and the things you’re most successful at. Choose five (integrity, creativity, contribution, etc.) that will guide and fortify you.

Stop Your navel gazing

Expansive leaders seek feedback and input from others. They endeavour to understand the people around them, and the systems they operate within. They prioritize truth over comfort. They see the world for what it is, not what they wish it to be.

Look to a result that surprised you recently. It didn’t magically manifest out of nothing; it was perfectly logical given the conditions in which it was created. Ask yourself, “What would have to be true for this result to make sense?” Now you’re on your way to understanding the underlying factors that affect your organization’s performance.

Let go of what’s not working

Expansive leaders aren’t focused on outcomes, so much as they’re committed to exploration. When an expansive leader hits a wall, they don’t curse the wall or blame themselves for the wall being there, they simply move in a different direction. It’s not personal. It’s an adventure.

Think of a situation where you’re currently stuck. What are you clinging to? Can you trade control for enablement? Opaqueness for transparency? Ego for curiosity? Old ways and ideas for new ones?

Stop trying to do everything yourself

Expansive leaders understand that in our complex, connected world, the best innovation happens not because of a decree from the top, but because of the interconnectedness of people and ideas. They know that collaboration is critical because individually, our imaginations are far too limited to dream of all that’s possible. An expansive leader is open to others. This makes it easier to sense what’s emerging around them, and to be successful within it.

When was the last time you spoke to an employee more than two levels down from you? How about a customer, or a supplier? Ask questions. Listen carefully. What is emerging around you?

Get on with It

Do expansive leaders still get stuck? Absolutely. The difference is, they don’t let their stuckness define them. For them, it’s a part of life. Rather than dwelling on it, they view it as a challenge to work through diligently, patiently and sometimes, even joyfully.

Leadership isn’t easy. There will always be setbacks, failures and outright disasters. And when those things happen, your job is to get back up, and just keep going.

After all, you’re not stuck until you stop. So, you’d better get on with it.

Judy Sims is a Toronto based leadership consultant, board certified coach and author of the book The Unstuck Leader.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

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