In 2010 I was accepted into the GBC LEADERship program…one of the best of it’s kind nationally. I was flattered, excited and frankly, nervous as hell. I was to spend a year with around 50 other leaders. The insecruties that I have alluded to in this blog were dripping from my pores as the first day of the program came closer. Partly because I had read up on my classmates. Included in my class were partners at the biggest law firms in Baltimore, owners of multi million dollar businesses, big wigs of M&T bank, the Chief of Staff for the Lt. Governor, PhD’s from Hopkins….and then there was me. Ugh!
I will never forget that first morning. I put on my best suit and headed downtown to this fancy board room over looking the water in the Harbor. My classmates seemed at ease as they introduced themselves to eachother…so confident. I grabbed a coffee and found a chair and had a few words with the guy that sat next to me, Ed….of course he was a President at TransAmerica…damn! I was thinking I was in way over my head and wanted to crawl in a hole. Then came this name tag excercise. We were to write our name on the name tag and then write two or three words that describe us. And yes of course, we were going to go around the room, stand up, and introduce ourselves. Have you ever been in a similiar situation? It’s awfully nerve-wracking. And to boot, I was at the end of the “U” shaped set up so I had to listen to all these “important” people introduce themselves and share the empowering words they had written about themselves on their name tags and seemingly deep reasons why they were there.
My turn. Gulp! I stood up and with my lips quivering I said my name, what I did, and then I Waved the White Flag and said, “The words I wrote on my name tag to describe myself are ‘deeply insecure’ and I am here because I want to prove to myself that I belong at this table”. I sat down and honestly I felt a relief. Not because my turn was over but because I had Waved the White Flag and surrendered. I quickly found out that in many cases surrendering is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
By the end of the day I must have had 10 people come up to me and say things like they wished they had the courage to say what I had said, that they feel the same way, or that I in fact exposed the truths of most in the room. By the end of the year many had requested to sit with me and in almost every instance these leaders revealed deep insecurities to me. At the final retreat my classmates voted me “Most Likely to succeed Jan”…the Executive Director of the program of more than 20 years.
Before I get into what happened I want to share that I have learned through my work and life experience that we ALL have deep insecurities. The problem is they manifest themselves in odd, damaging, and self defeating ways when not dealt with properly. Here I am focusing a bit on leaders. You know, the ones that have the big paying job, perfect life, and have their s*** together. Nope. I have not met or coached a single leader that did not deal with what I am talking about at some level…we all have it in common. A real and common sentiment shared with me in my work is that they are afraid of “being found out”…that they are not as good or smart as what people think…that they don’t really have all of their s*** together. How do I coach these people? Time to go back to what happened.
So what did happen?
I allowed myself to be vulnerable which is what I say to people and leaders everyday. As scary as it was, it was actually freeing to say my truth. And, an unintended result was that it gave many other people the allowance to share their insecutiies and truths. Imagine if we did this with our employees and even our loved ones. In my last post I talked about missed opportunities…I am giving you an opportunity here to connect with other people, to find common ground, and to have people be empathetic to you.
Simple, huh? Not even close. Mostly because too many still see this type of vulnerablilty as a weakness. Couple this with the fact that many of us think that if we expose our insecurities that we will lose our edge, our job, respect…we will be seen as weak and we continue to spend energy on shoving our insecurities deeper and camouflaging them with self defeating behaviors. What do I mean? We lash out, try to control the situation, get defensive, boast, demean…ugly stuff…non productive stuff. And, stuff that actually makes people affirm our insecurities instead of embrace them. When our insecurities show up in a negative way then we give people the right to judge us in a negative light and the cycle continues.
I want to note that I recognize that the reasons we are insecure as individuals are wide in variety. And, I am not suggesting that being vulnerable is the end all be all but it is a powerful first step. I would estimate that just in the past week I have been in 6-8 conversations with people in which they were describing ill behavior of someone and when asked why they think the person behaves in such a way the universal thought was that the person was insecure…which is what prompted me writing this post. I coached them to be more empathetic and applauded them for their insight.
So, whether it is you think you are not smart enough, insecure about how you look, feel like you don’t have money and somehow that defines you, or that you are afraid to be a ‘single parent’ after losing someone (remember post about my hero, my Mom), I suggest you Wave the White Flag...and surrender. I think you will be surprised at the conversations you have when you do. The alignment you get with other people. The energy you feel because less energy is being spent camouflaging your truths. And the satisfaction you get by giving the gift of allowance to the people that you lead and love. It is powerful…not weak.