Leadership: Underneath it All

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 thoughts, words 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, freeze or appease.

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 or other expert. 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.

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Dwight Frindt

“What does it require from a leader to create team member focus, collaboration, and effective action particularly in times of externalities that create tremendous stress?” Such questions have driven Dwi

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  1. Dwight, how right you are. The Impostor Syndrome is universally pervasive, reaching all levels of all organizations. What a pity so much energy is spent trying to hide the fact that none of us, especially now, know what is going on.

    The very fact that we don’t know the future is what makes life interesting. Maybe we could just embrace the mystery…and enjoy life a whole lot more!

    • Thanks so much for commenting! It really is a pity that so much energy is spent “hiding.” There is so much waste in having to “keep up the front.” Much more collaboration, fulfillment and results can occur in a more authentic leadership environment. 

  2. Michelle Andres

    April 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Yes, that Impostor Syndrome has shown up so often with those I work with (and occasionally myself!). It becomes toxic in organizations and paralyzes innovation. Rather than driving numbers and creativity, we should be supporting courage and authenticity – those characteristics will lead to much bigger returns. 

    • Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I agree with you. At this point the drive and pressure for short term results/numbers is creating a variety of issues and certainly dialing up the sense of “Impostor Syndrome” which creates fear and stress. I believe looking at this is really critical for leadership right now. 

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