Several years ago, I had this great manager and mentor, Jeff Mitchell Vice President of WW Sales for Airwatch and vmware, who was passionate about learning from other leaders, leading big teams and exploring new ideas. Jeff, a former college football player, lacrosse dad, and exceptional charismatic leader; he was also an avid reader and requested his leadership team read and turn-in “book reports” on business and leadership philosophies he felt were pivotal. Yes, his leadership team would be running huge teams with important scopes of control. He would expect us to deliver our team’s weekly forecasted revenue; along with a 2-page double-spaced typed paper, explaining our perspective on books such as “The Score Takes Care of Itself” by Bill Walsh.

I actually appreciated the assignments. In this particular book report, Bill Walsh was the ultimate “keep it simple” leader. His book helped me to simplify some complex communication and leadership styles I’ve used over the years. As a cello player and former dancer, it was also invaluable to better understand all the sports analogies I would overhear, running male-dominated teams in technology. Most importantly, Jeff influenced me by instilling the importance of reading books in our chosen fields of career study, and that we are all works in progress. There is still always time to learn in our areas of expertise, grow and share. So, thanks to Jeff, I’ve kept up the tradition of keeping a few business minded books on my desk to read and share.

One of my recent reads “Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps, How to Thrive in Complexity” by Jennifer Garvey Berger was handed to me by a colleague, Joshua Silva. Josh is an exceptional musician and managing franchise expert and sales leader. I started reading this book thinking “awesome, life has been crazy lately, I could use some nuggets on how to thrive in this complex environment”. The book made me realize two things; (1) you can’t overcome complexity and (2) nor can the leaders around you. Example after example in this book, were comical mindtrap disasters I had seen or experienced throughout my career. Detailing the situations on how a person would self-inflict, or a team could be negatively affected by a leader getting caught in their own mindtraps seemingly tasking a complex issue as easily resolved. I finished the book relieved; the elixir to thriving in team or business in overwhelming complexity just didn’t exist. Nor as leaders, should we state that “something” like a new re-organization structure, a new leader, a new client, a new product is the cure to the complexity that beguiles us. It sets the tone for struggle and failure for the new leader or newly designed process or tool to simply solve all the complex issues around us. It also leaves the organization exhausted from unimpactful change.

The book advocates on awareness of such mindtraps that you selfishly and naively believe you possess to outmaneuver the universal forces around you. Complexity is around us and it’s here to stay. With the advent of heightened globalization of business, new technology, artificial intelligence, changing jobs, necessary skills, and how people are buying services: the average business model is re-invented every 2 years. The crucial elixir for leaders is how to be aware of when a mindtrap to simply “solve complexity” takes over. How to manage our own mindtraps internally and lead teams through the complex storm is what provides the path to balance lead through those universal forces.

Here are 5 mind traps and thoughts on how to escape them:

  1. “Our desire for a simple story to explain the complexity around us blinds us to the real one”

If you think you’ve hired or found your hero to solve your problems or decided to hang-your hat on one person for the demise you are trying to solve, create three varying scenarios that plays out the story of the “hero” or “zero”.  The truth is found in the story-line between those scenarios.

  1. “Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right”

Always ask yourself how I could be wrong? Listening to learn versus listening to win or fix is the key to finding a path through complexity.

  1. “Advocating, lobbying, and influencing for agreement robs us of good ideas”

In the current world of constant partisan fighting it’s hard to imagine people in any public forum agree on anything.   However, in businesses, I find teams want to just agree and move on to a new solution because where they are hurts.  Sometimes a constructive and respectful conflict can serve to deepen a relationship and expand ideas instead of contracting them.

  1. “Trying to take control strips you of influence”

We believe that being in control is critical to our success and happiness. The seduction and danger of control is when you can’t control the big items, we substitute by controlling smaller items.  As hard as we try, we cannot be the predictor of the future.  We have to be careful that our control doesn’t too narrowly set the possible outcomes of you and your team.

  1. “If you shackle yourself to your ego, you bind yourself from reaching towards who you grow into next”

The strongest mindtrap is created by the person we are wanting to “seem” to be to ourselves and others. By protecting and defending the identity we have, we’re less open to see and explore new possibilities.  We tend to defend the point on the path we’ve accomplished at that moment and not striving to see the patterns we’re creating that gives us clues to where and how we can grow to next. Listen and learn from yourself.


  1. “Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps, How to Thrive in Complexity” by Author: Jennifer Garvey Berger
  2. Jeff Mitchell, VP Global Sales, vmware: for his positive and impactful leadership influence
  3. Joshua Silva, for recommending the book.