When I can’t sleep at night it’s usually because I am trying to solve a problem. On the surface the problem appears pretty basic, like responding to a dissatisfied client, finding a more efficient way to reach our target market, or discerning which vendor to use for our CRM. These aren’t my real problems, though. These are just daily tactical challenges relating to something deeper. Down deep, I have two basic fears; being incompetent or unworthy.
At the end of the day, what I worry about the most is that if I disappoint the customer, can’t find more business, or pick the wrong vendor, I will be seen as incompetent or unworthy.
Please don’t think that I am racked with anxiety or depression. I sleep pretty darn good most of the time. When I do worry, though, this is what it’s about. And, I have little or no data to back it up. My team supports me, believes in me, and recognizes my contribution on a daily basis. I generally get positive feedback from customers. Even when I don’t deliver in spades, they accept me for who I am and forgive my failings.
There are three basic fears that all humans have. Some of us are pre-disposed to one or two of them more than the others.
- Fear of being unworthy
- Fear of being incompetent
- Fear of being weak
The problem is that when I start to worry about how others see me, I stop focusing on what I can control; bringing my best self every day. And, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Giving energy to these fears undermines my credibility in several ways:
- I second-guess myself, which leads to herky-jerky decisions and waffling
- I become more needy of affirmation and try to steer focus to me and my ideas instead of the best ideas
- I compromise my own needs and boundaries to keep the peace or keep people happy rather than taking good care of myself
- I overcompensate and get involved where I shouldn’t
- I get defensive quicker, and it’s confusing to my team because I don’t disclose my hidden fear
- I don’t ask for help because that would appear weak
- Humility is replaced with arrogance or self-deprecation depending on the situation
- I’m more distracted and less productive
At a recent staff meeting, Sandy on our team disclosed feeling anxious and afraid about the status of a project she was managing. The project had dragged out too long and she felt it was time to bring closure. Her fear was that by doing so, she may have missed something that would come back to bite us later and then she would be perceived as incompetent and unworthy. Instead of giving in to that fear, she shared it, asked for support and asked for a commitment to move forward and accept the uncertainty without fear of recrimination.
It was an empowering moment for the team and for Sandy. Instead of seeing her as incompetent, we saw her courage and self-awareness. And as a team we had the opportunity to face our fears, support each other, and make a new commitment to move forward in unison. I can’t even imagine the time and energy that Sandy saved herself and the rest of us in the long run. She could have continued to second-guess, strive for perfection, check and re-check with little or no return.
As for Sandy’s credibility; it just went up a notch in my book.
Leadership is a personal, messy, vulnerable, and uncertain journey. If you’d like to explore your capabilities as a leader in a safe, curious, and accountable space, give us a call.