Successful, strong, competent leaders can do it all. Right? At least that's what it looks like to the outside world.
Support is something you give to others.
Asking for help is weakness.
Need translates to needy.
That's the trap of the best and the brightest. Super-achievers can get stuck in the fear of unmet needs. And what happens is, those needs often turn ugly.
Work suffers, relationships deteriorate and health sinks.
Here's the underlying thinking of the "I can do it all" crew: show vulnerability and you'll get stepped on. There's always someone who will take advantage of you. You'll be thought of as helpless, defenseless, powerless.
Keep your shield up, your mask on.
Leadership means being the face of hope, optimism, possibility. Your job is to deliver confidence. No matter what you feel, what you fear, what is missing in your life, keep it to yourself.
That's when the tension between unmet needs and the fear of being vulnerable begins to build. The biggest secret fear is that the internal volcano building inside will erupt and you won't be able to stop it.
That's the dilemma of leadership.
Too many leaders live in isolation only showing their public face, never letting their shield down to be real. Can the masks of command coexist with authentic leadership? As one well-known titan of business said to me "If you want a friend at work, bring your dog to work."
The most common way of handling the fear of vulnerability is to stay disconnected. Sure, you can be an extrovert, slap 'em on the back type, and still be a loner. Never show your soft side, never even admit you have one. Just don't make any kind of emotional investment in others.
Another way to play it safe is to keep your eyes on the shiny object. Like Teflon you slip and slide from project to project, person to person. You can feel good, at least for a moment. There's always another acquisition, award, addiction.
And then there's the way out. To observe your behavior, understand where the super-achiever need started and then transform it to emotional health and well- being.
Here is an important question for you to answer as you peel away the mask and put down the shield of protection. However, a word of caution. The mask and the shield have their place. Your job is to know when to use them and when to put them aside.
Now, the question. When did you need and depend on others for your survival or success? This is a key to your deep feelings about how safe it is to be vulnerable. Often this goes back to parents and siblings. What we learned in our original organization, the family is what we bring into our present organization at work.
Often high performers learned early they could only depend on themselves and chose either emotional isolation or the shiny object syndrome. Both ways say that you are in charge and no, you don't have to depend on anyone else.
Now for the better way. Find a mentor. Sure, you could be disappointed again. Then find another mentor. And here's something to think about. Getting you needs met can only be done through relationships. Yes, relationships. It's you and another. Someone you can learn from, test ideas with, and yes, show your fear about needing to need someone.
The way out of the dreaded need-fear cycle is called "the ask." It's that simple and that difficult. Find out where you have been disappointed in the past. Accept it. Then get a mentor, a coach, a friend and ask for emotional support. That's the most courageous thing you can do.
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