Last week, as I was working with a workshop participant, I had an epiphany about my own development. The workshop participant was preparing for a new job. While he is incredibly smart and deeply knowledgable about the topics on which he will work, all of his free time was devoted to preparing for a job that starts in January. When we drilled down into his motivations, we uncovered that he was feeling vulnerable about not having all of the answers when he started his new position.
My training on the Leadership Circle Profile popped into my head. This 360 assessment helps us see how we behave when we feel threatened and how that impacts our ability to be effective leaders. It also reminded me of where I go when I feel threatened and how far I've come.
We all have a way that we define ourselves that can make us behave in a not-so-desirable manner when that sense of identity feels threatened.
If we get our identity from being liked, we tend to comply with others' wishes. This shows up as indecisiveness, lack of strategic focus and/or the inability to achieve results. When our identity is based on whether people like us, we can be wishy washy and defer to others or spend too much time making everyone else happy at the expense of our own accomplishments.
If we get our identity from being right, we tend to create a protective barrier between ourselves and others. Some of us appear distant when our "rightness" is questioned. Others show up as arrogant or ultra critical of others. When how much we know and how right we are defines us, our leadership tends to lack courageous authenticity, that highly effective leadership trait where we can be vulnerable, tell others we don't know the answer and admit how we're feeling about things.
Being in Control
If we get our identity from being in control, we can feel the need to have everything be perfect. This tends to result in an autocratic leadership style where we find it extremely difficult to mentor and develop others (because we can't trust others to maintain our high standards) and it limits our ability to live balanced lives (because everything will fall apart if we're not there to monitor it).
Usually, one of these characteristics feels very familiar to people, sometimes even laughably so. The workshop's participant's "thing" is being right. He felt if he walked into his job not knowing everything on day one, he wouldn't be enough.
My Own Experience
Right there in the workshop, I had a flashback to 2015 when I was maintaining the Courage Wall. One morning I went to check the wall for inappropriate comments and someone had written, "I wish I had the courage to tell Nancy she's a jerk." I broke down crying. It really shook me. I spent hours trying to figure out what I had done to make someone upset, searching for a time I had offended someone or had been unknowingly rude. You see, I had placed my identity and my value in people liking me.
Looking back on that now, it seems silly to have gotten so upset, but now I understand that the comment was a blow to my identity as someone who is likable. I realized right there in that workshop that someone telling me I was a jerk was just the thing I needed. You see, not everyone likes me and I'm still ok. I'm still here, doing things I believe will make a difference in the world. And the more I do those things, the more possibility I have of people not liking me. And now that's ok.
So I invited the workshop participant to try to be wrong more often. Maybe after being wrong, and realizing he's ok, he'll figure out that being wrong now and then doesn't make him weak, it might even make him a better leader.
What About You?
Which bucket do you fall into? Do you feel a need to be liked? Do you feel like you always need to be right? Or do you feel like you must always be in control?
- If you need to be liked, try making a bold decision that will ruffle a few feathers. See that not everyone will like you for it. And realize you're ok.
- If you need to be right, take a risk and be wrong. What happens? How does it feel? What did you learn?
- If you need to be in control, let go. Let it not be perfect. Let someone else try, and even maybe fail. What gift does this give the people around you?
We all place so much pressure on ourselves to hold everything together. The more I talk with people the more I sense that everyone just longs to feel free. This week, give yourself this gift: try one thing that would break you away from heaviness of the life you think you should be living and try something that simply makes you feel free.
Gift for Thanksgiving
Speaking of gifts, here's my gift to you for Thanksgiving week. Take six minutes to watch this beautiful video by Louie Schwartzberg called Gratitude. it's a great way to slow down and find wonder in the world around you. If you like it, consider sharing it with your family and friends on Thanksgiving. Then give them the gift of yourself, that beautiful light that shines inside of you and touches everyone you meet.
Be the Light
Stay tuned for a new community art project called, Be the Light. Be the Light is an interactive community project that helps us see that the light inside of us can illuminate ourselves and others if we only let it shine. The project will launch on December 3 in Del Ray in Alexandria, VA. We'll invite people to write on a gift tag how they'll let their light shine, then give them a (battery powered) votive candle to light. In time, we'll have a display of hundreds of declarations and glowing candles. We hope this powerful visual will help everyone's light shine more brightly.
We're incredibly grateful to our community for funding our $2,000 Go Fund Me campaign for materials in just one day! What a tremendous outpouring of support. To all those who donated, thank you for spreading the light! Want to launch your own Be the Light in your community? Shoot me an e-mail and I'll share our plans!