The biggest fear leaders have is that people will discover their incompetence
Holy wow, right?
Even the leaders who look like they have it all under control may not necessarily feel like it all the time.
If you’re someone who feels like this, where do you go from here? What do you do with this feeling? How can it be tamed?
I’ll come onto that in a moment.
But first, a story …
Deborah was the Finance Director in a company that was struggling.
They were constantly looking for investment, and while they waited for it to come through, nobody was being paid.
The owner of the company had a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way … in more ways than one, if you know what I mean …
And as a result, staff turnover was a huge problem.
Newcomers left as soon as they arrived. The company’s founding team wouldn’t tell the owner what they really thought of his leadership style. There was a huge lack of trust between everyone.
Deborah was at a loss as to what to do.
As well as being the Financial Director, she was also looking after Operations and New Projects. But we often wear several hats in a start-up, she reminded herself. This is part of the game.
As the months progressed, Deborah started feeling the weight of stress.
First it was a cold that wouldn’t go away.
Then it was sleepless nights worrying about how she’d tell her team they had to wait a further eight weeks before being paid ,which led to migraines.
And finally, when her body couldn’t take it anymore, she had a breakdown.
One morning, she sent an email to the company’s owner telling him she couldn’t get out of bed. She didn’t have the will to come into the office and go another day.
But I’ll work from home as much as I can, she assured him. I’ll still be reading and replying to emails.
She didn’t want to let her team down. Even though they weren’t being paid and had far too much to deliver, she wanted to show them she was there for them no matter what.
Instead of acknowledging the warning signs telling her to take a break, she soldiered on.
This inevitably influenced the behaviour of her team. The loyal ones would work 14-hour days and work from home at weekends. If the boss thought this was acceptable, so did they.
Events came to a head when Deborah’s husband snatched her smartphone from her hands and switched it off.
I’ll call your boss and tell him you’ve been in bed for a week, crying uncontrollably. He’ll understand.
Deborah was forced to acknowledge the toll she’d been putting herself through. Despite this awakening, she still felt guilty.
I don’t want my team to think I can’t handle the stress of my job. Who will want to join the management team if they think we all go away and have breakdowns? How will they know that I support them?
Do you relate to this? The need to constantly be on? Working harder than your body can take so you’re not found out?
This is precisely what Olivier and I talked to Andy Molinsky about on the latest Masks Off podcase episode.
Andy’s a Professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School and has written a lot about vulnerability as a leader.
In this episode, we dissect this imposter syndrome feeling leaders seem to have, and what the right dose of vulnerability is in the workplace.
Clickety-click here to watch the episode on YouTube.
What to do now?
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