True Belonging and Strong Core

145114_800x600

Yesterday I found myself caught by a  video posted by Richard Rudd, the brother of a friend. In the course of picking his kids up from school Richard had picked up something else. As I started to watch this video I thought it must be about finding your spirituality, the subject of Richard’s book. Then I realised it was about something else. It was about how Richard was taken at the school gates by the unexpected. Richard had found a real passion for something that was visible and present for him in the here and now.

It turned out that Richard had got talking to a mother whose own husband was out in a refugee camp at Idomeni in Northern Greece. By going to Greece and seeing for himself the horrific conditions in which people were trying to live, her husband had become utterly transformed. People had nowhere to shelter from the rain or to sleep so what they needed was a tent. A tent costs £370 so what he needed to do became clear. He and his wife bought ten tents on their credit card. In turn Richard did the same. Soon they set up a web page for donations and as I write they have raised £35,198. A tent houses four families so that is 95 tents and 380 families of four, nearly two thousand people, out of the wet so far. Richard is now out at Idomeni.

The reason for sharing this story is not to get more tents nor is it to make a point about the refugee crisis. It is about something else entirely. It is about what happens when people find where they truly belong and the incredible power that has. This is what I saw in Richard’s eyes. He had seen something and he was following it. That mission had a special beauty. Through his commitment to what he had found I knew Richard was finding his spirit. Out of respect for what I saw when I watched the video, I know that I can’t put Richard’s appeal into words here half as well as he does. To be fully felt this needs to come directly from Richard.

In Soft I call this out when I question where power really comes from. My contention is that we tend to misunderstand power and where it originates. It’s not an external thing but rather an internal thing that each of us hold as individuals. The problem is that we tend to give it up unwittingly to others. I see the process of realising this connection to where we truly belong to be an essential part of our developing what I call “Strong Core”.

As I wrote the book I was drawn at a key point to JK Rowling. There are many reasons why I could admire the successful author. Many are obvious and some, like being the writer whose books my wife choose to read to our son in infancy one by one, are not so obvious. None though are the reason though why I really respect Rowling nor why I write about her in Soft.

In June 2008 Rowling gave a Commencement Address to the graduating students at Harvard. In that speech this wizard storymaker, to my mind, not only shows us but also explains her strong core. She starts by admitting the weeks of fear and nausea that the thought of the speech has given her before embarking  on a simple but compelling story to explain how she got from the depths of poverty to where we see her now.

In her speech to these rather privileged students, Rowling talks openly about her own graduation and the way in which she found herself to be a complete failure some seven years later. Rowling then talks about the incredible power this gave her. She first acknowledges this deprived state and the realisation of failure she held there as being her “rock bottom”. At this point Rowling felt a “stripping away of the inessential” to leave her, with her greatest fear realised, free to rebuild her life. Contrary to our expectations of failure, the “stripping away” of structure and expectation that came with it gave her inner security and taught her the true power that she actually had.

As Rowling points out, poverty is one thing but climbing out of poverty by your own efforts is something to pride yourself on. Rowling’s life story from then on self-illustrates this essential truth. Secure in her ability to survive, she was able to create. As Rowling puts it “had I really succeeded at anything else, I may never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged”.

This realisation of where we truly belong comes to each of us in different ways. Even in desperate situations such as poverty it is not always obvious to us what it is. Nobody told JK Rowling to be a writer or what to write. Nobody told Richard to make a video or to go to Greece. The insight into our belonging may visit us but we don’t always see it or follow it.

As Rowling points out success can also blind us. Being more secure and privileged in where we are right now can provide a surrogate comfort blanket. If we take sustenance from our position today that same sustenance can mislead us. This is the problem with external measures. In the end external things don’t matter but if we choose to build on them their falling away can leave us devastated. The comfort of position is much overestimated in its usefulness and can even be a prison. That is maybe why Rowling continues to be happy to use a pen name for her “adult” writing and in the early days to even submit under that name getting rejection letters. The only thing that does matter is that internal feeling of knowing where we belong and then following it, damning the consequences.

In this belonging lies our real power. In being true to that power we are being true to ourselves. In that truth lies the key to success; internal success. That in turn, drives the external.

 

 

 

Change – from where does it start?

92d97c1bcbf0be6e6d9c27133ed5833efdec802e

Early in my career I made a mistake. It was quite a big mistake and it was a significant factor in us loosing a billion pound deal. It hurt. Today it’s not the mistake that guides me so much as the feelings I had in the moment of realisation and what it did for me, to start a process of change.

I was part of a team negotiating an outsourcing deal and the acquisition of two companies. We were all staying in a country hotel and were together as a team from Monday to Saturday most weeks. The problem was that we pumped ourselves up and started to believe our story. We saw our position as the truth and stopped seeing that any other possibility existed. Our metaphors were of war and our language was foul. In our view, we were right and all others were wrong. We were fighting for what we believed in. That felt good.

What I realised is that I had become tribal. Tribal was a great feeling but that was all it was; a feeling. I had lost any perspective. From my partisan point of view I was unable to see that where we were and what we had come to believe was simply a version of the truth. It was far from a complete or honest picture. It wasn’t until I got home one Saturday night that I started to realise this blunt reality. In my home context the fog suddenly started to lift. Soon after I walked through the door my then partner expressed horror at my warlike language. Later she took me to task, quite rightly, for what I was saying about the people we were negotiating with. I had taken a limited perspective and I was the poorer for it.

It can be quite a step to realise the real truth here – that any perception of truth is simply a question of perspective. Seng-ts’an was the third patriarch of Zen in China in the sixth century and in his great poem “The Mind of Absolute Trust” he said:

“If you want to realize the truth, don’t be for or against.

The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.”

This was the mistake we had made. By believing that there was a truth we had adopted our version of truth for our side and as a result had become blind to any other possibility. We were “for”, the others were thus “against”. We had fallen into the same trap that George W. Bush fashioned in 2001 when he famously challenged us all with:

“You are either with us or against us in this war against terror”

Being on one side or the other immediately means that our perspective is segmented. Our particular version of the truth becomes a fixed and limiting thing. Our unquestioning loyalty is expected in this battle of sides. In turn, we expect others to change and generally they don’t. We are blind to the possibility of there being any other way of seeing things. No change is possible, only escalation.

Change can only start when we begin to realise that there is no such thing as the truth. Conflict exists to prove this to us. Others see things differently. If they didn’t there would be no problem.

The crux here is to see that there are only ever versions of the truth; one of which we tend to hold. Even our supposed objectivity is in practice subjective. This may be a hard thing to take, especially where the “other side” of the conflict has gone so far as to be seen as evil. Where we see evil, holding onto the idea that we are not so can be comforting. The principle remains valid nonetheless.

Leading in this context means that we have to build understanding of everyone’s truth, intent and purpose and start to build a vision round that wider possibility. That might seem like an obvious thing to do. In practice it is too easy, in the cut and thrust of our daily negotiations, to miss this essential opening.

In difficult situations this opportunity needs to be seen by both parties. It’s usually the case that one party needs to take the lead and show the way. If I am open to change then perhaps you can be also?

As long as we believe that our version of the truth is the truth we are stuck. We will defend that position and then, if we have a chance, we will attack from it. The Victim’s journey forward can become one of simply becoming a blind Villian. The bombed becomes a bomber; doing exactly the same to the other believing it is a right thing to do, because they are right.

The challenge here is not even just getting the logic – it is to apply it. If this does all makes sense to you in theory then the next thing to do is to try the principle out, particularly where it is uncomfortable to do so. Try applying it to any situation where you see conflict; particularly where that conflict is entrenched. It may be that either you or the belief system you are part of feels it knows the truth of that situation. If that is so then maybe you have fallen into the trap and need to question the reality you hold and the way you see the situation. The fact that the truth might seem obvious just makes the challenge and the need for change more true.

If we continue to believe that there is a right and a wrong and that there is one version of the truth, there can be no change.

That is why the place that change starts from is the place of seeing that there is no one truth; least of all the version of it that we tend to hold.

Diversity – a Soft approach

west-bank-olive-harvest-fb

Is Diversity the same thing as Equality? Do the two get confused?

I’m reminded about what I’ve learnt about the Spanish Olive Harvest. In the process of harvesting olives, men and women know that they each have strengths. The men have learnt that they are good at the heavy lifting and the women tend to be better at the gathering. If they play to these strengths they can get the job of harvesting the olives done together. This is what they do – and they tend to have a good party together after.

This is real diversity – we appreciate positive differentiation between people – the things that make them different – we honour each and work together to make the most of those diverse talents in service of the whole.

In many workplaces I see equality being pursued as an output measure. In this quest we are missing out on two things that are far more important. First, the opportunity to spend more time understanding both how we are different – genuine diversity – and to make that work for us. Second, to spend time understanding the beliefs and assumptions that drive the behaviours in the current workplace that are causing output inequality of which we complain.

If we are honest with ourselves we know that the outputs we want to achieve are a result of the behaviour in the workplace itself. These are in turn caused by the beliefs and assumptions we operate under. By concerning ourselves more with these latter things, at the base of the diagram below, we can drive the former, the outputs, at the peak.

Slide1

The real point of equality is that we should treat each other with equal respect and provide a place of work which welcomes all. For equality to really work it has to exist in the base layers of the diagram rather than being strived for by the people who measure these things in the top layer. Equality at the input level is what matters. We all have to care about these issues whatever sex or gender we are.

Measuring the gender mix of the heavy lifters – output equality – might not help us to achieve equality but making sure that everyone enjoys the harvest and contributes as they wish – input equality – might.

I’m worried that we have created a working environment – particularly in high value professional services like law firms – that is overly suited to one type of worker – the dedicated workaholic – and not particularly friendly to others who work differently. We’d like the others to be more present but the reality is that everything that is done in terms of behaviour drives them away. There is little point in thinking of equality as a output measure if the behaviours all around you ostracise the very people you need encourage.

Soft is a way of having a conversation about these things and starting to appreciate why we get ourselves in this bind so that we can change it. Soft is also a welcoming behaviour to all. Hard simply fights and inevitably looses. Which would you rather do?

 

The Solution Conspiracy

Slide1

This week I met socially with a client who has now read the book. The conversation we had was exciting and fascinating. Diversity, leadership styles, beach volleyball, the environment and politics all mixed with gentle helpings of philosophy. One thing however that he particularly talked about struck me, and that was a thing I call the “Solution Conspiracy”.

The problem, as he put it, is a preference to see the answer and go straight to it. I call it the solution conspiracy because its what client and consultant often do in a sales situation. We tend to conspire to go too quickly to an answer, instead of fully exploring the problem and fully understanding the pain before we ever think about what to do about it and building the resolve to do so.

My client cited a parallel situation he experiences – the case of working with a strong leader who is particularly smart and pretty much invariably knows what the answer is in any situation. He said that the problem isn’t that the person makes bad decisions, it was simply that no-one else felt included in them. This leader actually makes excellent decisions which are widely respected and nobody disputes that. The thing is the inclusion part. This question of inclusion has also come up in a number of other conversations this week. It seems many of us are suffering with over-strong leaders.

Achieving inclusion, buy in and ultimately support can be a problem if we have a particularly strong judgement. Our ability to see the answers and make decisions is excellent but others may not fare so well in that environment. In the downdraft of the smart parent’s helicopter blades sitting just above every situation what ability to consider and make their own decisions emerges in the younger talent?

This strong judgement or perhaps a sense of a lack of time tends to cause us to race to a solution. Yet within that race who do we loose? If the people who will implement our strategy are not allowed to have their say will they then do a good job of implementing the strategy when we decide it? What tends to happen is that a strategy “air gap” emerges between leader and the implementers. As a result the strategy will not implemented.

Our conversation this week on this topic led to the observation that perhaps it is a more traditional female thing to allow time for a discussion; to see that it is more of a extended thing, and that women perhaps have more of a sense of evolutionary time in the making process. Men might be drawn on the other hand to see their job as quick, fast and decisive; their contribution more a one off. This could be seen a mirror of the gender contribution to sex and the process of begetting and rearing children.

Never have I seen two things together as leadership and the support of children, that so much both need to change. Heart and good judgement is important but there is more than one heart in a team, the true King or Queen takes counsel, taking the time that needs to be taken. The true leader is not only shrewd but a listener who gets engaged.

Key Power of Soft Messages

I just composed these key messages of the book so I thought I’d share them.

  • Fear and defence are bigger issues for us than we realise. Our behaviour is largely driven by our protective instinct. This means that our primary mode under any sort of stress tend to be to attack and defend. As a result, we often project a hard, aggressive front that is not at all helpful in modern life. This can shield a scared, soft childlike core. If we think of it as a dualistic model, what we ideally want is the opposite – not armour on the outside but a soft front instead – with a strong, well boundaried, core.
  • We see power in this way – as dominance of the attacker. Our ideal first move is thus to defend or attack and then to ourselves become the predator. We therefore prize the image of the lion, the eagle, the bear. This is a limiting model because it’s not how power really works. Power is something we all have through the act of living. When we are in fear, we choose to give it up to greater forces. To understand what power really is, and that we all possess it, changes what we can do with it.
  • When we defend, we defend our position. It’s difficult to be flexible or to change if we feel we are under attack. We defend our castle. We don’t see things as they are; we see them through our lens. Once we can accept that we are not under attack we can relax. Then we can start to understand others and see that our position is just that; a position, not a truth. There are other ways of seeing things but we hold many big structural assumptions to be truths.
  • The jewel here is what we each have at core. We don’t spend enough time respecting ours or other people’s true selves. Once we start to encourage growth from within rather than imposing from outside we start to see something amazing happen: we can self-heal. Once we can self-heal we can help others to do the same.
  • Soft is the natural default state. For example, rock is formed from soft flowing materials such as lava, being put under huge stress. Like rock, hard is just soft that has given in to pressure. Soft has strength because it is able to flex without loosing itself in a way that hard can’t. On contact with another, hard can only win or erode, therefore it is unyielding. This is why soft is stronger than hard.

Remember that this is about a movement from hard to soft that is still continuing. It includes lived knowledge of both states. Its not all soft. This book could very easily have been called “Confesssions of an Alpha Male” or something similar.

I also feel that if we are to change our relationship with the world we have to start with the monsters – that we fear – that separate us from it. Soft is a journey.

 

“Water is fluid, soft and yielding.

But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.

 

As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding

will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.

This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

 

Lao Tzu (604–531 BC)

 

 

 

 

Why are Stories so important?

early-morning-mist-larry-landolfi

This morning there was a sharp frost and a mist. I went out early with the dogs and it is (still, as I write) one of those mornings of utter beauty and joy. The intense light of the low emerging sun coupling with the frosty crunchiness underfoot.

As I walked, from rising sunlight into mist, something registered. I walked on, into mist, still half asleep, on my usual route, not knowing what it was.

At the end of the first field I decided not to turn left, round it as I would usually do, but instead to turn completely, to head back; through the mist into the light.

Emerging into the light wasn’t one of those things that happened suddenly but instead occurred softly, through a gentle gradation of change. I knew when I was back in the light but I didn’t know where it had happened. Knowing the point of change didn’t matter though.

What did matter was the thing that hit me. As I went through the transition back into light the thing that I knew but had yet to surface became clear. It was about stories.

Story is our means to make sense of our world. I realised that there are essentially two kinds of stories: monster stories and love stories – the mist and the light. Monster stories are about a challenge of overcoming a beast in our lives; real monster or metaphorical. Bond, Breaking Bad, Jurassic Park, you name it.

Love stories are very different; a reconciliation of the separated. Boy meets girl, lost lovers reunited in some way. My ability to name a good love story straight off might tell me something…

We get used to telling and hearing stories. Myth is there to help us make sense and to carry learning. My real thought this morning was more than this though. It was that stories are really for more than just telling. Stories are ultimately for living.

We tell stories in order to be able to live them when we are ready. We live through the narrative to learn a different way of living.

I realised that we are telling a lot of monster stories. Our lives and our kids lives are full of them. The papers are full of them. Even Facebook is full of them.

Telling and hearing are all very well but the challenge is to stop telling the monster stories and to start living them. The shared myth-kitty of monsters is there to help us all see that the real challenge is to overcome our own monsters. Instead of re-living someone else’s story for entertainment, again and again, we need to face our own monster challenges and evolve through them.

In a world of separation monster stories are essential because they have a role of helping us to overcome the reasons for our separation. We are separated because we live in fear.

_88473642_img_2955gooseinphonebox

There’s a problem here though – it’s often difficult to see what it is about the story that is important to us. Take our village goose – the Sandon Goose – shot dead in a “drive-by” incident on Sunday, a week ago. It has become an international story. What has struck me most so far was reading the comments on the Daily Mail website last Friday. We have effectively created a container here into which people pour their fear. For example, there were many comments online calling out how evil other people were. One, for example, said “I hate most human beings..” (122 likes and counting). Another – “This is the type of children raised today. Vile, evil creatures..” (92 likes). I could go on. Who are these people hating comments really about?

This story has become a monster story – a story about the monsters who killed the goose but then also about the monsters people see in society and in ourselves. Why else do people get so angry if they do not see something deeper for them that is kindled by the surface story? This is one animal, albeit with bags of character, in a small village after all. Lots of animals get killed in the countryside every day. There is a deeper reason why the shooting of the white goose becomes a much bigger story.

In order to re-unite ourselves we have to live and understand these stories first. The monsters have to be dealt with. To live the monster story we have to understand our own monsters and our fear of them. As long as these monsters remain in our lives, we will remain in fear and separation.

It’s choice we have but remember – victims of fear are easily manipulated – manipulation by fear is a common ploy – of politicians and bosses alike. If we don’t live the monster stories but instead just listen to the Disney version we are all a great deal poorer.

At the same time, we need to listen to and tell more love stories so that we, in turn, can start living them. We need more love stories so that more and more of us can live out stories that re-unite the separated in life.

With the monsters that psychologically dominate us finally gone, we can start living more of these stories of love.

That is why story is so important.

 

…as a Goose postscript today (5th March) it turns out (there was an exhumation and a post mortem) that the Goose wasn’t shot after all. So all these monster stories about the killers of the goose were actually about a goose that wasn’t shot at all. No shooting, no killers, no monsters but still a story. Still wondering what the story is really about?

Love above all

MLK Kennedy 2

Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King both appear in the book and are captured here, reaching out to each other, in the “Landmark to Peace” memorial in Indianapolis.

The styles of leadership shown by both of these men is very different from what I’m seeing in politics here and in the US right now. I’m reflecting on that.

Kennedy is a particular character of interest to me. A tough fighting man born into a competitive family; RFK served as US Attorney General and was, at that stage in his life, ruthless in how he went after organised crime and the mafia. He negotiated hard.

Kennedy was however open to change and as his life developed his approach softened. His successful counsel to his brother JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis showed that change of approach. To peaceably solve a situation where half of the US population believed Armageddon was inevitable is no mean feat.

In particular the impromtu crowd calming words he spoke from the back of a truck on the eve of King’s assassination in 1968 was one of the greatest speeches ever made. Kennedy and King were, at that time, both seeking to address some of America’s most intractable problems. This brought them together. Sadly the world also never got to benefit from RFK’s further development into a great world leader. 63 days later his campaign to be the next President was over, as he himself was shot.

One of RFK’s requests at that time was for us, in the words of the Greek playwright Aeschylus:

“to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world”

I’d like to echo that.

In this world we live in we’ll never make enough money, ground or goods for everyone in the world but we can always make enough love.

The Guest House

Alot of things happen in our lives and we can all end up getting depressed by some of them.

What about treating everything that is sent to us – even the dreadful stuff – as an opportunity – a thing that is sent to us to help us grow?

If we can see the bad stuff in this way we start to see a positive side in even the most negative things.

How much control do we have over external events anyway?

What we can always control is our attitude.

Nothing reminds me of this approach better than this great poem from the Poetic King of Persia.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond

Jellaludin Rumi – Sufi Poet (1207-1273)

How to Crack Imposter Syndrome

Every year Olivia Fox Cabane asks the same question of the incoming class at Stanford Business School. To this highly talented, fired up collection of the United States of America’s finest young minds she throws the curve-ball: “How many of you feel that you are the one mistake the admissions committee made?” Every year the response is the same – about two-thirds of the students raise their hands. This kind of base statistic repeats itself wherever the idea is studied except that it is just that; a starting base. As we go up the corporate ladder the numbers only get worse. What starts at two-thirds or seven in ten goes on to become eight or nine out of ten and in some gatherings even ten out of ten. On a retreat I facilitated recently an outwardly highly successful US CEO in his fifties told his story and touched on the question of his own feelings of fear at being found out one day. In response I asked the group to raise their hands if they also often felt the same. I was not surprised when a hand of everyone in the room went up in quiet salute, including my own and that of my co-facilitator.

Essentially what the Stanford class need to know is both that this feeling is normal and not to expect it to disappear as we attain more. In conversation with a good friend we touched on his father’s recent retirement. My friend had asked his father what he was enjoying about being out of corporate life (he’d been a highly respected CEO for many years). The answer he got had shocked him to the core. Apparently the best bit was now knowing for certain that there was no risk any longer of his office door opening one day and someone walking in to tell him that they’d finally realised that it was all one big mistake. Only stepping down and away had given him final release from the fear that had dogged him and thus grown with him as he ascended in his career. This is a key point, further success and further promotion is not the thing that will save us from this. It usually only gets worse as we climb the mountain; not only are the escalating rewards harder to reconcile with our lowly view of ourselves, the mountain also becomes a more lonely place at the top. Like a child alone in a house at night, our fertile imagination about the fears that lurk in the dark loves to take over, if we allow it.

Impostor Syndrome ( spelled by me with an “e”) is a term coined by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. What Clance and Imes identified was the difference between the way we are externally evaluated by others and the way we feel about ourselves. Much as we might achieve success, we don’t fully believe we deserve it. Into that gap floods fear; fear that is primarily built around the high likelihood we naturally feel; of being found out. It is a fear and it is thing that exists in our heads. This is another key thing to know about it. It is not something that actually exists; it is something we create for ourselves that flourishes in the gap between what is and what we think should be.

One of the reasons for writing this now is that I recently watched a brave young woman have the courage to speak up about her own fears to a group. Being hugely talented often has a cost. If you are in the right environment you can get promoted fast. Her boss had left and her CEO, having clear confidence in her, had simply promoted her into the top job. She spoke of the resulting conflicting feelings this gave her: on the one hand huge excitement but on the other hand the fear of being totally out of her depth and of being found out. As she spoke I felt a huge wave of admiration for this woman. I later fed this back to her and the group. My comment was that what she had done by naming the fear was to raise my confidence in her massively (the converse of what she probably felt). Crucially, nothing she had said had any effect on my assessment, nor I put forward, any one else’s view of her ability. My judgement of her capability (necessarily limited in my case) remained the same. What she had done in spades was to make it clear that she was highly self-aware. The admission made it clear that she was thoughtful, open to self-reflection and thus up for change. This is why my overall view of her had shot up. What I saw was a highly capable person who was also self-aware. This is a killer cocktail. I don’t know about you but that is the sort of person I always try to recruit.

In this group we also talked a lot about change and being on a continual learning journey. In my perambulations through corporate life I have always noticed the difference between two different sorts of people; those who are prepared to challenge themselves, to learn from the experiences they have and be changed and those who aren’t. It strikes me, quite hard in fact, that the themes of challenging ourselves all the time, taking risks to learn and imposter syndrome are linked. If you never do anything that scares the living daylights out of you why would you ever have reason to think of yourself as an imposter? If you inhabit safety all the time, this syndrome is unlikely to visit you. If on the other hand you are always pushing forward, trying out new stuff, doing jobs that you might not be fully up to, learning and generally existing outside your comfort zone then it’s a sure bet that some version of this feeling is going to come knocking on your door. You kind of have to expect it, as a consequence of following your purpose in life rather than shirking it. We will feel slight imposters if we are always moving forward. Contrary to what we might think, it’s a good sign and shows that we are stretching ourselves. The dead feel no pain.

In further consolation, at this point, I would also like to call out what happens to the blind; a clutch of leaders who are not self-aware in this way and start to suffer from a thing called “hubris”. This is the thing that happens when someone starts to believe too much in themselves and to have little connection to either where they have come from or the needs of the people around them. This is the leader who suffers from too little awareness of the gap between what they are and how they are seen rather than too much. David Owen wrote about in his excellent book “The Hubris Syndrome” where he pointed out how badly that Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher in particular suffered from this alternative, which is almost a reverse of the imposter feeling. My question to you is which would you rather have: consciousness of the weight on your shoulders or immunity to it? Having a connection to who you really are is, I would contend, one of the things that makes a really great leader. Churchill may have had his “Black Dog” but it perhaps helped to make him as successful and impactful as he was; as he drew on his inner reserves to stretch ever further. As Bertrand Russell said “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” Which would you rather be? There is something here in balance between the extremes but overall I’d rather have a healthy awareness of humility rather than a lack of it.

It is also said by some that women tend to suffer more heavily from imposter syndrome than men. Many studies have refuted this but overall I would tend to agree. I think the reason for this is perhaps that boys on the whole are more likely to grow up learning to bluff, puffing themselves up and learning to get away with it. Women perhaps are more rooted in the truth of who they are and are not so prepared or practiced at pretending stuff. Women’s honesty may be something that makes this worse therefore. But why should unapologetic honesty be such a bad thing? As the world increasingly changes to a place of transparency and honesty, the ability to strut like a peacock is not as revered as it once was.

A further danger of this is the idea that one of the ways through the imposter feeling is to work harder to make it more likely that we are not caught out. Now this is a wider trap and an additional red flag to us all. It is not only a reason for overwork it is also a reason for bad career choices. If we see the need to work even harder to solve this problem to be a reason for pulling back from pursuing the career we might have liked then that is a live issue. This unreal fear has a real effect on career progress. Given the view that women suffer from imposter syndrome even more than men, if this one of the many reasons we see less women reaching for what is justly theirs and consequently at the top then it is another good reason to talk out about the craziness of what is at play here.

Being able to manage this gap between who we really are and the image we maintain out in the world is a vital tool. Awareness is everything – being alive means we should feel pain from time to time. Talking about this openly will help. Welcoming in the things that trouble us and speaking to them rather than hiding them in the closet is the route to feeling successful in life.

At the end of the day who would we rather have in the workplace: bluffers in danger of hubris with no self-reflection or the honestly self-aware with a tendency to feel overstretched at times? I know which I prefer.

Follow Your Soft Animal..

 

maryoliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver – Wild Geese