In another post, I talked about three common obstacles that visionaries and the people they lead often face, commonly as a result of perfectionism. Today I want to focus on a fourth obstacle that is the most pervasive and the most challenging for those who face it, in themselves as well as in their team members and those they mentor: low self-esteem.
The irony of accomplishment is that often those who are the most successful are those who do not fully recognize their worth. They are constantly proving themselves to the trio of voices inside—the inner perfectionist, the inner critic, and the inner pusher—that criticize and tell them they aren’t good enough . . . that they simply aren’t enough, period. The successes they achieve never satisfy these voices, and the fear of failure (which this trio contends is an ever-present risk) keeps them from taking chances that could lead them beyond mere success toward a greater vision for their future.
We must also contend with the inner patriarch, embedded deep within through societal and cultural programming and messaging. This voice, like a stealth bomber, flies under the radar. We often don’t recognize it’s even there, constraining men and women, but especially ruthless and unrelenting in women and girls, telling us we are less than, we are limited—always falling short in some way as a professional, a mother, a wife, a daughter. Those who on the surface appear to be successful often live in constant fear of being “found out” for who they really are (what I call the Sham Syndrome), so they don’t sell themselves professionally, even turning down promotions because they feel they aren’t ready; or they don’t assertively and confidently seek funding and customers for their business—if they even take the chance on starting that business in the first place.
This complex dance of high expectations for what we should achieve and low expectations for what we are actually capable of leaves women trapped in a rut, a never-ending vicious cycle of striving for success that leaves them unfulfilled and dissatisfied. As long as these inner voices, the patriarch, the critic, the perfectionist, the pusher, drown out the visionary voice inside, this cycle is bound to continue.
The solutions are as complex as the problem, of course. Many of us realize that when dealing with low self-esteem in ourselves or in others, praise alone just doesn’t cut it. A person being led by low self-esteem “knows better” about herself and doesn’t believe the praise, or doesn’t feel that what she’s being praised for is good enough or makes up for her other many faults. Making a point to recognize a person’s good qualities and choices, in specifics (vague “good jobs” do more harm than good), is absolutely worth doing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not enough.
In fact, I can’t offer a quick fix here. This is a deep-seated issue that requires multiple approaches and often ongoing expert guidance, particularly to uncover and discover the inner patriarch and perform a “destructive restore” so that the inner visionary can harness and transform this powerful force. But I can offer two ideas to guide you and the people you lead toward recognizing this challenge and committing to facing it.
The first is to understand fully that beating yourself up for not being good enough does not work. Many of us continue doing this to ourselves based on the mistaken notion that “tough love” of this sort will actually produce results, but obviously if you still feel you are never good enough, the approach simply isn’t working. In other words, you will never satisfy your inner critic, perfectionist, pusher, or patriarch by actually listening to those voices.
Second, instead of focusing on what to do about those voices, focus on helping your visionary voice speak out. The louder that voice is, the more likely it is to drown out all others. The more we listen to that visionary, the more inspired we will be to rise above mere success and strive to create a future that matters to us and that makes a difference in our lives, our work, our world. The more we follow where our visionary voice leads, the more we will experience what it feels like to be happy, fulfilled, and living our purpose—the more we will understand that we all have the potential for greatness. From this state of being, of strength, questions of whether we are good enough are no longer even worth our time to contemplate.
What can you do today to start consciously raising the volume on your visionary voice and that voice in those you lead?