“What if I’m missing something? What if they’re mad at me? What if someone needs my help? What if I’m letting everyone down?” rang the voices in his head.
Fresh off a week-long vacation, but super anxious. While he had mostly disconnected during his time off, it took him several days to get there. Whether in the ocean with his wife, or by the pool with his children, he found himself distracted. Preoccupied.
My client reached out because he was anxious about his return to work and what awaited him. Even more urgent, however, he was awakening to the fact it might be about much more than a ballooning inbox. The more self-critical questions he couldn’t reconcile, lurking just beneath the surface—“what if they don’t want me around anymore? What if they realize they don’t really need me? What if they see, what I fear most, that I’m just not that valuable?”
Great Leaders Know Themselves
Great leaders practice radical self-inquiry and self-acceptance to better know and embrace their whole selves.
They spend time exploring their emotions and considering how their behavior affects the people around them. They engage their anxiety and feelings to grow themselves and their team. I could see quickly he hadn’t learned how to do these things yet. Most people in his seat haven’t. They don’t teach you this part at Harvard. But this is the deciding factor. This is what allows the cream to rise to the top. And anyone can do it. You just have to have the courage to be honest and open to other possibilities and perspectives.
What if, it’s not just about getting more stuff done? About finding a better framework. Identifying better productivity hacks. Creating more space to do the work.
What if, putting his head down and pushing his feelings away to do more, isn’t sustainable? Leaving him feeling frenetic, unfocused and depleted. An unhealthy energy that weakens his ability to connect and inspire those around him.
What if, his stress and anxiety isn’t about being behind on his committments, but about his sense of worth? His drive to do more and compulsively micromanage, fueled by a need to feel he has value. Is needed. That he matters.
What if, his behavior is sending unintended messages to his team and family?
His team believing he doesn’t trust them. Doesn’t think they can handle things on their own. That their value is dependent on their output and thus shouldn’t ever disconnect. Stoking a growing sense of burnout and a firming desire to find another employer.
His family believing he cares more about his inbox than spending time with them, even while on vacation. That they aren’t a priority. Not important enough to be present for. To receive his best energy. His undivided attention.
What if, exploring the soft stuff isn’t a waste of time? Actually helped him get more done. Allowed him to embrace the totality of himself and commit to learning every day in order to be marginally better. Rendered him more capable of fostering an environment of innovation, collaboration and growth. Rather than letting his anxiety and feelings drive him, dictating his behavior in ways he isn’t aware and sending messages he didn’t intend to those around him.
I’m always honoured when my clients choose to explore these shifts in mindset with me.
Setting The Tone From The Top
The leaders you admire are always setting the tone. When they walk in a room you can feel the energy shift. Your mirror neurons are all firing together. How they feel, you feel.
For some of the greats, this comes naturally, however, controlling and setting the tone is absolutely a learnable skillset.
My client is no longer living with the steady current of anxiety flowing just beneath the surface. Now he is setting the tone from the top and leading in a more conscious way. He’s using the leadership challenges that come up to actually complete his own process of self-discovery and growth, signaling it’s safe for everyone in the organization to do the same. Firmly committed to the research showing that as psychological safety increases on a team, performance improves dramatically over the long-term. Importantly, no longer believing his only responsibility is to produce profit, but also to create a humane working environment so that the best in his employees can thrive.
His new leadership style eliminating his long-held belief he needs to have all the answers and be perfect all the time, while also removing limitations on growth and scalability. He’s leveraging the resources and talents of his team, who are collectively guiding the operations more effectively than he could alone. Consequently, he’s freed himself up to spend more time asking those working around him what they need to thrive. Listening with compassion, acknowledging and validating, and always seeking to enhance their development in ways that unlock their potential, creativity, and sense of purpose. He’s finding the result is increased retention and lowered turnover costs. Moreover, his well-trained and trusted employees are developing into future leaders, thus helping to ensure the long-term viability of a thriving organization and healthy workplace.
Great leaders know themselves as well as they know their craft.
When they lead this way, doing the work to better know and accept themselves, they are more focused, self-empowered and resilient. The result is increased productivity, less stress and a big improvement in overall well-being for them, their organization, and their family.