What do I mean by this and why does it matter?
Leaders are people who take responsibility, they worry about their work. Their worries include things like whether they are making their numbers, how to get more than 4 hours sleep a night, wanting to get along better with their boss, whether they have the right people on their team and how to bring change in more quickly.
Therefore it makes sense for leaders to have reliable access to their clearest, most resourced and creative abilities to be successful. The key to accessing these abilities is self-awareness. Yet our self-awareness is not developed or supported as we grow up. The saying, ‘what got you here won’t get you where you want to go’ underlines the need to truly understand our internal emotional landscape and how to navigate it. And what keeps us from this understanding is the self-protection system each of us has carefully created to help us meet the challenges of growing up. The prize of self-awareness is to be free to respond in the moment, without emotions that hinder leadership from flourishing.
It all starts when we are children…
From childhood we learn, with the acute intelligence of a child, that our emotions are problematic, even dangerous.
Think about it, when we expressed anger, we would often find it was not allowed – in fact it made for many dramatic, messy situations.
If we showed fear, it would tend to isolate us, making us feel more alone. And although sadness was likely seen as a more acceptable emotion, the problem with sadness is that it leaves us feeling without energy.
Well-meaning but counterproductive
Showing our deep feelings tends to lead to feelings of aloneness, and that carries a self-judgement. The self-judgement is that ‘we shouldn’t be the way we are’. As we grow, we hear ‘don’t be afraid’, and ‘don’t be angry’, or ‘come on, cheer up’, ‘what’s the matter with you, why the long face’. These well-meaning messages actually leave us with the impression that our emotions are unacceptable and indicative of a poorly functioning personality at best – or a weakness of moral fibre at worst.
We learn to lock down our experience, to control the emotions that arise naturally, and substitute them with the mental states we create. The downside of this is that we lose contact with our body and our heart. To get ourselves in control we close down the heart centre in the chest and lock feeling in the stomach and belly. Then we can experience less feeling and be more in the mental world of the mind. The mind is safer, more controllable and easily disguised. We learn to live by the rules and regulations others have of us. This creates our identity. And our identity naturally wants to be protected and secure. This is our own creation, it is our self-protection system.
Bikes and Helicopters
If we don’t keep feeding the self-protection system with energy it will slow down and we will fall over, it’s just like riding a bike. We don’t like the bike to wobble (our insecurity) so we peddle harder and feels good when we go fast. it’s literally a treadmill sucking energy and keeping us distracted from the here-and-now. To compensate for this sense of insecurity we continually add to the array of defences we call on and pay attention to our protections. In fact, over time we come to regard the health of our protection system as the same thing as our personal health. The problem is that this defended self is about as stable as a helicopter. It will stay up there only as long as it can consume a huge amount of energy. But when that energy is gone, falling happens.
Why this matters
The energy we put into our bikes and helicopters robs us of the vital energy needed, especially by leaders, for success in our day-to-day life. The patterns of defence we have built into our identities keep us from our authenticity. We lose our ability to trust our feelings to guide us effectively, because our feelings are full of shadows of unresolved projections from the past. When we escape into our habitual mental states we cut ourselves off from our intuitive, creative, emotionally intelligent selves. It keeps us small, needing to be protected and unable to be at our best.
How I can help
I have helped other people on this journey of self-awareness. Using a variety of approaches tailored to each individual I can facilitate the inner knowings that illuminate the inner landscape. Individuals can then find how to access and appreciate their inner knowings and resources, becoming more self-aware. Developing self-awareness will lead individuals naturally to be emotionally intelligent leaders, well rounded partners and spouses, and insightful parents.