Your insecurity is biting me in the ass
"I'm just so disappointed. This project has turned out nothing like I envisioned it to be."
As the leader relayed his feelings, the energy in the room became deflated. I couldn't believe he said that. We had all been working ridiculously hard in an effort to turn the mundane task of energy conservation into a community-building endeavor.
All of us had witnessed positive effects from our efforts over the previous six months. And now, in the eleventh hour, we were dished a giant entree of demoralizing shame.
I surveyed the room as my peers withered uncomfortably in their seats. I felt enraged at the complete selfishness I was witnessing. It took effort for me to calm down enough to consider the possibility that he's doing his best.
A few days later I confided in a friend. I tried to look for the bright spot, "Well, this opportunity has afforded me a chance to experience leadership no no's!"
I've seen leaders struggle with practicing vulnerability and transparency for years. But it's always different having a front-row seat than witnessing it from the outside.
Our leader had been continually projecting his insecurities onto us. And now that we were at the point of delivering the goods, he was taking it out on us in spades. Not only did he project his disappointment on us, but he was also openly questioning every single decision we had made as a team. It was maddening.
He is entitled to his feelings but his persistent negativity was toxic. What's more, he was choosing to fixate on the bad while ignoring everything else. This choice was problematic as we all internalized the additional burden of walking on eggshells. We felt pressured to both do the work we had agreed to and placate his emotional outbursts.
This is an important and difficult lesson for leaders to learn. The process of turning a vision into reality with others is often fraught with disappointment. This is especially true if you cling too hard to specific expectations without having clarity about the essence of what you're striving to co-create. And it's even more challenging for leaders who are experiencing imposter syndrome.
Projecting feelings of disappointment or insecurity onto your team not only diminishes morale, but it also erodes trust. Those thoughts and feelings are best worked through with a trusted peer, coach or mentor. Asking your team to provide emotional scaffolding every step of the way is like expecting a school-aged child to care for their parent. They might rise to the challenge but at what cost!
It's so easy to externalize blame. To experience feelings of disappointment and point the finger at someone else. To throw your hands up in the air exacerbated and say, "I tried everything I could and they're not getting it!"
Here's the kicker, these problems stem from the person at the top. At some point, you have to stop pointing the finger and start looking inward. To ask - In what ways am I complicit in creating what I say I don't want? (thanks Jerry Colonna for inspiring this reflection question)
Then to reflect with self-compassion and grace.
Engaging in honest self-reflection with care and compassion is especially hard when in the thick of imposter syndrome. The ego is all riled up looking for an escape pod, a way to save face. And so it's of critical importance to leave cruel judgemental remarks about yourself (and others) at the door. Because shoulding on yourself isn't a way of getting honest, it's simply a redirection of counter-productive shame.
This is your invitation to step into a new dynamic. I give you permission to reflect on this question with openness. And as you reflect, consider forgiving yourself for not being perfect. Because no one is perfect and expecting so from yourself and others is a recipe for disappointment. Additionally, such fantasies feed imposter syndrome.
One of the best antidotes to imposter syndrome is accepting that you will never have it all figured out. A leader's job is NOT to have all the answers. But to bring people together to figure it out collectively.
Amanda Palmer wisely said, "the difference between the amateurs and the professionals is simple: The professionals know they're winging it. The amateurs pretend they're not."
Holding onto the narrative of imposter syndrome is negating the fundamental truth that we are all winging it. Anyone who is taking on a new challenge could fall into the imposter syndrome trap set by fear.
If you anticipate this. If you are prepared for this eventuality then you will have a place where you can bring your raw, gaping wounds. A person who will listen to these insecurities and fears. A journaling practice where you process and self-advise. A way of healing. Nadia Bolz-Weber observed that vulnerability is preaching "from my scars, not my wounds."
As a leader, you're allowed to have human moments. You will mess up. I've messed up. And I can tell you from personal experience, how you recover impacts what happens next.
If you let insecurity maintain a stronghold you will push people away and create division. If you do the inner work. If you show yourself grace and compassion. If you own your foibles. If you get the appropriate help. And if you then share your scars, not your wounds with your team, you will weave a stronger foundation. That's the kind of transparency that builds trust.
I wish I could say the leader in my story was able to course correct but he wasn't. Instead, he imploded completely and abandoned us. The rest of us were left to pick up the pieces and finish as best we could. We got the job done, but there was a pervasive sense of loss and hurt that followed us like Pigpen's dust cloud.
Not only were we carrying the weight of responsibility for this project, but we were also grappling with the emotional drain of a leader who persistently projected his self-doubt onto us. A situation that could have been remedied if insecurity had not pervaded and he sought appropriate help.
While I have tussled with my own feelings of hurt and frustration in this situation, I have also consciously chosen to leave judgment and shame at the door. I feel compassion for our fallen leader because I know he was doing his best. And because I want to show you that it is possible to both acknowledge the consequences of one's actions and have an open heart.
Do you feel weighed down by imposter syndrome? Are you struggling to find your way forward? Join us for a Journal Jam and give yourself the gift of listening to your own innate wisdom. More information and registration for the next session, on August 19th, available online here.