So often we believe our problem is somewhere out there. It can’t be us. Especially when something goes awry in our organization, we usually look to find the cause outside ourselves. Rarely do we look in the mirror. Recently I heard a story that reveals this tendency and its consequences.
One of my partners was invited to do an analysis of an organization to determine the reasons why current and potential customers choose to no longer buy their products, or not buy at all. It turned out that one of the key reasons sales are lost or never achieved is due to the attitude of sales people, who believe that customers should buy no matter what. If a sale is dropped it’s often explained away by sales staff as an inability on the part of the customer to understand the value of their product.
In other words, the customer is blamed. Many customers say they don’t like the pushy nature of sales people. When my partner shared this information with the leadership of that particular organization, the CEO immediately went on a rampage (something he is noted for) to chew out the sales force in general, and the individual sales people who were the greatest perpetrators. In other words, he blamed them. And yet, ultimately he was the source of the problem.
His tendency to blame created a fear-filled and pressure-filled environment in which the sales force paid it forward onto the customer. The more the CEO blames the sales force, the less likely anything will change for the better because he sets the tone for the entire organization. His own leadership style and the paradigms he held about leadership had created these patterns in the first place.
To further exacerbate the problem, he failed to realize, or perhaps was unwilling to realize, that the problem was actually him. Rather, he believed it had to do with forces outside of him. Now why would a powerful and seemingly successful CEO hold that point of view? In my estimation, it has to do with security. So often, CEOs are taught that they need to exude confidence. They learn about how to stand, how to speak, and how to do things that portray power. There are even classes one can take on executive presence to learn such things.
And yet these efforts simply mask the underlying cause of lack of confidence. The key to finding confidence is in owning ones own insecurity. In a “fake it ‘till you make it” world, this is clearly counterintuitive. Trying to fake it by putting on the appearance that one is confident will only go so far. You can train yourself to portray confidence and this portrayal will indeed become a habit over time.
But the insecurities will keep eating at you. Ultimately, your confidence will only be skin deep. Leaders who try this strategy end up blaming, blowing up with anger, and retreating in surprising moments, all the while unaware of the insecurity lying beneath. They create temporary feelings of security, all aiming at masking the deeper insecurity. Truly confident leaders earned their confidence by doing inner work. They take on their shadowy side and seek to own the forces inside that are unseen.
They face their disowned selves. In the case of the leader mentioned above, to truly be confident, he would need to confront his own insecurity. It exists. He would need to consider why he is uncomfortable with taking this responsibility and what his wounded self might think would happen if he did take responsibility. He would own his fears, and seek the wisdom of knowing that if he indeed took responsibility and invited others to join him, the outcome might be different.
To create a safe environment where others can own up to this fact requires that he himself is a safe environment. Such a safe environment only comes when a leader is ok with himself and welcomes the parts of himself that he’s hesitant to own. This is the stuff from which conscious leaders are made, and it requires inner work. Nothing else will satisfy in the long run.