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Reprogram Your Autopilot and Take Your Leadership to a New Level

Reprogram Your Autopilot and Take Your Leadership to a New Level

Everyone has an autopilot. You have been preprogrammed to behave the way you do. We've all grown up with different experiences. However, we are preprogrammed by our parents, peers, teachers, and community to act, behave, and think in specific ways. How many of you were told:

  • Money doesn’t grow on trees
  • Turnabout is fair play
  • There are no free lunches
  • You can’t do that, you don’t have _________

[Related: If You're Not Betting on Yourself to Win, No One Else Will]

Our autopilot system is system of beliefs and behaviors that is created one of two ways. In some cases, there is a sudden emotional impact that anchors a certain way of thinking. A good example is the impact 9/11 had on both our country's sense of security and how some individuals behaved towards specific cultures, nationalities, and skin color. Alternatively, behaviors can be taught through repeated exposure to our unconscious mind. A notable example here is the child who is physically abused by their parent and grows up to either do the same to their own children or marry someone who behaves that same way. Regardless of their origin, these beliefs and behaviors run through our unconscious mind, also known as our autopilot system.

In both preprogramming scenarios described above, our behaviors and actions are set for life. Or are they?

Let’s first examine a less emotional example, such as driving a car. How many of you think back after your drive home and ask yourself, “Did I stop at that stop sign?” or “Were the dogs out sleeping in the yard today?” or "Were the llamas out eating in the pasture?" (that last one might be from personal experience) and find you are not sure? Your autopilot is turned on to operate your drive home. What if you turned your autopilot off and opened the window to hear, smell, and see everything around you? Look at the road and notice every pothole, see the leaves growing on the trees, and notice where the llamas are today?

Now, let’s look inward. Think about where you are in life today. Have you achieved what you want to achieve by now? Do you have the things you desire? Are you the parent, spouse, friend, employee, and leader you want to be? If not, why? Take a look at what you are consciously and unconsciously doing. When you’re in a meeting, do you hold yourself back from answering a question for fear of being wrong? Are you afraid to sound stupid, or worry that you will be ridiculed? Are you overly-critical of yourself? Do you greet the people who pass you, or do you look down and away? Take note of what you do, and then ask yourself why.

[Related: Rock How You Recognize Colleagues in Your Workplace]

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a John Maxwell event in Orlando. Going into this event, I thought I knew what was holding me back. Paul Martinelli proved me wrong. I'd thought it was from my high school experience. But what was actually holding me back was much older than that. It started when I was five years old, when I was repeatedly told, “Children should be seen and not heard.” The most impactful source came in grades 4-9. I had suppressed memories throughout those years. But they were so long ago - why should I care?

I care because those experiences still hold me back today. They impact my relationships and success in my career. And until you really get to the root cause of your beliefs and behaviors, you can’t effectively start to reprogram your autopilot.

For me, 4th grade began a multi-year experience with bullies. Bullies have an unbelievable impact on a child’s mind, and the victim's associated subconscious behavior can last a lifetime. These bullies generally crave attention and significance to fill a void they have within their own lives. When they find someone they can make fun of and make others laugh, they get the attention and significance they crave.

So, I started holding myself back from asking or answering questions, hoping instead someone else would. I would sit in the back of a room so all eyes wouldn’t be on me. I would avoid speaking in front of groups. I knew I did these things and I wanted to change them. I just struggled with why. Now I understand.

My question is now for you: What do you need to reprogram or unlearn to become the person you desire and achieve more from your career?

Take a look at your behaviors and actions, and then ask yourself:

  • Is this a behavior I want, or that others want me to have?
  • Am I holding myself back?
  • Do I desire more from my relationships and career?
  • Do I have biases, conscious or unconscious?
  • Do I constantly question my abilities?
  • Do I find it difficult to get along with others?
  • Do I communicate effectively?
  • Am I the leader that my peers and employees need me to be?

Once you have answered these questions, do you find you have the passion to change? If so, with a little persistence and a plan of action, I am confident you can begin to reprogram your autopilot.

[Related: Dealing with Your Inner Critic — Handling the Tough Self-Conversations]


Kimberle Seale is a strategic leadership coach and business consultant. She works with individual leaders and business owners to unleash their limitless potential. Learn more at

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