Leadership: Underneath it All

unbalanced stones Note: Dwight is currently out on leave so we are running some “best of” blog posts from his writing for the Vistage Executive Street blog that you may not have seen before. Enjoy!

There are perhaps infinite facets, qualities, layers and levels to successful leadership. While certainly a complex and rich topic, I am going to dive underneath most of these complexities to what is, in a sense, a “leadership bottom line.” I am talking about an “underneath it all,” that, if not addressed, causes a lot of problems. Most importantly, it can derail important strategic and cultural efforts, raise stress levels, and create a myriad of upsets in a team or organization.

This bottom line is essentially universal. It is the fear of not being good enough. At some level, this is not a fear exclusive to leaders, it is a human fear. Writer Ernest Holmes calls it, “the universal doubt.” I think doubt is not quite strong enough a word and that really, fear is more accurate.

Author John Eldredge in “Wild At Heart,” talks about your original wound. Brene Brown, in her powerful TED talks on vulnerability, calls it your shame. I have found it to be that very first hugely negative declaration I made about myself as I began creating my identity, my strategy to survive childhood. The important thing to know about these perspectives is how powerfully this dynamic shapes our thoughtswords and deeds in the present and how strongly your survival brain holds on to them and struggles to be sure no one ever finds out about it!

This fear may have slightly different wording in different individual’s minds; “I’m not good enough… I’m not worthy…I’m stupid…I am a fraud, etc.” You have your own personal and very specific version. The key is to know that your fear is powerful and will cause you to create elaborate personality adaptations to cover it up.

Some people become aggressive, some people become perfectionists, some people become fearful of making decisions. All of these approaches are survival strategies unconsciously driven by, “I’m not good enough and I must not be found out!” All are some version of fight, flight, or freeze.

If you are truly committed to developing powerful, effective, collaborative leadership capacities, then get to work on this deep seated issue! Begin to notice your own very personal version. Consider how it is a driver in your behavior and actions and notice the consequences for the other people in your life.

This may be a very uncomfortable inquiry that could require support from a coach, counselor, spiritual director or other professional. The important thing to remember is that this is a universal issue. It’s not unique to you, or even a small group of people. Knowing that it’s truly human to have this fear affords a sense of compassion for both yourself and others.

When you are really ready to experience powerful, effective, and sustainable leadership, tackle this issue head-on for yourself. It will forward your leadership and your life.