The two coaching clients couldn’t be more different.
One was a white-collar executive. He was tertiary educated, several times over. He had taken a company founded by his father, more than doubled its size, and expanded it internationally so that it was an industry leader within his nation. By all accounts, he was a successful business leader.
The other was a blue-collar worker who hadn’t finished high school and still found it hard to read. Rough as guts, but with the rare combination of a work ethic like a titan and the compassion of Mother Theresa. He was hard yet fair, and his genuine care for his people was palpable. Over his 30-year career he had worked his way up from the bottom, become an expert in his industry, and is credited by many as the reason for their success.
Two very different leaders, with very different backgrounds, lives, and experiences. And yet as I sat with them, coaching them to take their leadership to the next level, both got stuck on the same question.
Am I good enough?
This is a question that I’m sure most, if not all of you, will have wrestled with at some point – and I dare say still do. I know I have. And every now and then, it rears its head once more and I must contend with it again. The reality is, I’ve never met a leader who hasn’t and doesn’t struggle with this question.
In many ways, it is a natural question for any leader. The very fact that we occupy the role of leader (whether formal or informal) we occupy the public eye, are looked to as role models, held to a higher standard, and raised up on a pedestal. Additionally, if we turn out not to be good enough and we fail, our failure may have significant impacts on the lives of others.
The weight of these expectations is heavy. Thus it is a natural question to ask. Yet it is a question rooted in doubt and fear that we may not be up to the task. American author John Eldridge says that every man wrestles with this question. He writes,
Until a man knows he’s a man, he will forever be trying to prove he is one, while at the same time shrinking from anything that might reveal he is not. Most men live their lives haunted by the question or crippled by the answer they have been given.
While Eldridge writes of manhood, I believe this statement applies to all leaders, regardless of gender. Until a leader can answer this question, they will continue to strive to prove themselves, rather than focus on leading, developing, and supporting others. The result is often tangible inauthenticity. They will also shrink from the challenges of leadership. Those times when their people need them to step up and lead the most; the times that offer the greatest opportunity to grow.
Until a leader can answer this question, their thinking and behaviour will be driven, or at least influenced by, fear. They will be both haunted and crippled by it.
Failing to answer this question is like building a mansion on a foundation of bamboo stilts. The house may be large and elaborate, inspiring admiration and approval by all who walk past and see it. However, it will always be rickety, prone to swaying in the wind. As the owner and builder, you’re always worried about whether or not it’s all about to collapse in a heap.
Just like the owner of such a dwelling, the leader who cannot adequately answer the ‘Am I good enough?’ question, will always be worried about being found out as an imposter; of failing and having their career collapse in a pile of rubble all around them.
Do you find yourself struggling with this question? Do you experience a lack of confidence in your own leadership?
If you answer yes, I want to first let you know it’s normal. Every leader has struggled with this at some point. Even the most successful leaders today will still ask for it. The secret to their success is they found an answer that allowed them to overcome their fear. Knowing that this is possible is the first step.
Given the universal question nature of this question, I’m going to spend a couple of weeks exploring different strategies to help you find your answer to this question. When you do, I’m confident it will unlock new reservoirs of potential you never knew existed.
So stay tuned.