“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. When we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Marianne Williamson, “A Return to Love”
In my last blog I discussed forgiveness as it relates to personal transformation. We examined why it’s important yet often so difficult, what it really means (and what it does not mean), and the ultimate price we will pay if we choose not to forgive. And in order to truly forgive others, we must start by forgiving ourselves. Forgiveness is the third and final step in the Transformational Cycle that starts with Vulnerability and then progresses to Personal Responsibility. The purpose of this blog is to “close the loop” on the Transformational Cycle by reviewing why these three elements are so important and understanding their sequence in this process. We will close with a discussion on the concept of the “shadow” and how it must be identified and addressed in order to experience sustained personal growth.
As a quick recap, Vulnerability is the first step in the Transformational Cycle. The process of personal growth and leadership transformation must start with genuine, authentic vulnerability. This means there is no control, and no guarantees. When we are courageous enough to step into the ambiguity and discomfort of vulnerability, we open ourselves to a broader perspective and a larger reality. If we are willing to experience rejection, failure and loss, then we open ourselves to joy, exhilaration and authentic connection. From a leadership development perspective, being vulnerable opens us up to the necessary and needed feedback from others that can propel our ongoing growth and development, transforming us as leaders irrespective of our title or role.
After being vulnerable and open, we must then take Personal Responsibility for ourselves – our decisions and actions – and “own” our current state. When we take responsibility for ourselves and our lives we reclaim our only guaranteed freedom – first identified by Viktor Frankl: the freedom to choose our attitude and our response to any situation and to every person we encounter. When we reclaim this universal freedom, we stop blaming others and being a victim, and start investing our energy into positive change and forward movement.
It is crucial to remember that all of these elements are necessary to experience personal transformation. Vulnerability WITHOUT responsibility leads to a “victim” mentality: a person who is open (“wears their heart on their sleeve”) but lacks resiliency. Responsibility WITHOUT vulnerability leads to a “martyr” mindset: someone shouldering more than their fair share of the blame without truly being open, empathetic or connected.
Finally, Forgiveness is the essential last step in the cycle. Forgiveness allows you to let go – either of anger or resentment toward another person, or guilt toward yourself – and move forward with a fresh start and a renewed sense of purpose and clarity. Experiencing vulnerability and taking responsibility without granting forgiveness simply won’t work: you are left with the long, slow burn of bitterness. So, to review:
Vulnerability WITHOUT Responsibility = VICTIM mentality
Responsibility WITHOUT Vulnerability = MARTYR mindset
Either or both WITHOUT Forgiveness = Long, slow burn of BITTERNESS
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent enough time in all three of these places to know there’s no return on the energy invested. The only good thing that came out of those experiences for me was the realization that I didn’t want to be there, accompanied by a strong motivation to change. Although this can be challenging and intimidating, it is well worth the effort. There are several activities that you can engage in, such as expressing gratitude, spending time alone in nature, or being candid and authentic with someone, that will help support this “new” you. But, before we examine the characteristics of Actualized Leaders, we have to take one more plunge into the darkness and examine what Carl Jung referred to as our “shadow.”
Your shadow, my shadow, is that aspect of ourselves that we often deny, repress or project onto others. Because of its unconscious nature it is elusive and, well, shadowy, but here’s a quick test: pay attention to what you always notice in others that causes you to have a strong emotional reaction. That reaction can be either love or hate. Chances are that the characteristic or trait you always notice is a part of yourself that you’ve denied or repressed. We don’t always realize or appreciate it, but when we judge or critique others, whether said out loud or as an unexpressed thought, we say a lot more about ourselves than the other person. Wayne Dyer perhaps said it best: When you judge others you don’t define them, you define yourself. Think about that for just a moment: What are you constantly saying about someone else – either aloud or to yourself – that you might really be saying about yourself?
For our purposes we will define Leadership Shadows as unfounded fears, based on irrational thoughts and limiting beliefs, which drive and often derail our behaviors. We will consider them as the “dark side” of three positive drivers: Achievement (Fear of Failure), Affiliation (Fear of Rejection) and Power (Fear of Betrayal). In our next blog we will begin to shine some light on leadership shadows so that you will have the opportunity to face, and befriend, yours. After all, they’re going to be with you for your entire journey … I think introductions are in order.