Actualized Leadership: Fear of Rejection; The Dark Side of Affiliation

Actualized Leadership: Fear of Rejection; The Dark Side of Affiliation

Solitude is where one discovers one is not alone.
Marty Rubin

We would worry far less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.
Ethel Barrett

In our last blog we examined the concept of the 3 Leadership Shadows with a special emphasis on Fear of Failure, the dark side of the motive need for Achievement.  David McClelland (deceased), the famous Harvard psychologist who pioneered seminal research in human motivation, identified three needs that propel our behavior: Achievement, Affiliation, and Power.  In this blog we will turn our attention to the second Leadership Shadow, the Fear of Rejection, and its relation to Affiliation.

Affirmers, those driven primarily out of a strong need for Affiliation, are the social glue that connect and hold us together in our organizations.  Affirmers are warm, friendly, loyal individuals who care deeply for others.  Their primary motivation is to develop and maintain harmonious interpersonal relationships.  At a primal level their motivation is driven by the need for connection with others; for love and acceptance.  Our world in general, and our organizations in particular, would be cold, lonely and boring places without their warm smiles, caring hearts, and open arms at the ready for a hug.  Affirmers are also the best and most empathetic listeners in the world; always ready to make time to hear about our latest triumph, tragedy or challenge.

Affirmers are excellent connecters and team members and take on many roles, often in human resources, counseling, social work and teaching.  They are more concerned with people and relationships than performance and results which can, at times, hinder their success.

Not surprisingly, many famous Affirmers come from faith-based traditions, including Pope John Paul, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa.  Another well-known Affirmer from pop culture is Charlie Brown.  As you may recall Charlie Brown is more concerned about pleasing others than himself.  And, he can be trusting to the point of being naïve.  If you are a fan of “Peanuts” (or “Snoopy” as I called the television specials and comic strip), you will likely recall that every time Lucy promised to hold the football for him, he believed her and kicked as hard as he could.  And every time she pulled the ball away and he ended up on his backside.

While all of these and other positive characteristics are ever present with Affirmers, there is a dark side that emerges when their Leadership Shadow – Fear of Rejection – is activated.  Under stress when an Affirmer senses conflict, confrontation, or a potential damaged or lost relationship, the Jekyll/Hyde potion is consumed and the transformation begins.  When this occurs, the Fear of Rejection Shadow transforms the Affirmer in negative and unproductive ways, where friendliness becomes conflict avoidance, concern for others leads to being overly accommodating, and different opinions and perspectives create indecisiveness.  And just like the existential and ironic tragedy associated with Achievers and failure, Affirmers are more likely to experience the rejection and separation they so fear when their Shadow is activated. As with the Achievers and the Fear of Failure, the Leadership Shadow Cycle for Fear of Rejection starts with irrational thoughts, which create unfounded fears and negative feelings, which in turn lead to counterproductive and self-defeating behaviors, as illustrated in the following table:

The Fear of Rejection Leadership Shadow Cycle




I cannot be alone.


Staying in unhealthy relationships.

The needs of others are more important than my own.


Ignoring your own needs and being overly accommodating.

I should not anger others.


Allowing others to take advantage of you.


An additional potential deficiency for Affirmers in leadership and management positions is the impact their style has on their team.  Group culture, akin to the “personality” of a team, is negatively impacted by the Affirmer style.  This style creates a “Dramatic” climate where members are nice and polite on the surface, but below the surface feel frustrated and irritated over a lack of transparency or a disregard for performance.  This lack of candor, in turn, leads to the classic group dysfunction of “The Abilene Paradox.”  The Abilene Paradox was first identified and named by the late Dr. Jerry B. Harvey (see My F in Life post) and it describes the dysfunctional process of groups who make decisions and take actions that no one really wants to do.  Unlike “Groupthink,” where groups struggle with managing conflict, The Abilene Paradox focuses on a group’s inability to manage “agreement.”  Affirmers who are conflict avoidant or delay making difficult decisions will likely lead their teams on trips to Abilene, or points west.

The tragic irony identified above bears repeating: As an Affirmer, the more afraid you are to risk feeling rejected by others for expressing your true opinions, beliefs and feelings, the more likely you will be.

So, what if you are rejected and find yourself isolated and alone?  The first quote in today’s blog is very powerful: Solitude is where you find that you are not alone.  And it is in this place where you can learn to transform the absence of a physical connection to a profound, unshakeable connection to yourself, your values, and your authenticity.  And when you connect to your authentic self and your purpose, you realize that you can never really be alone.

Image courtesy of Chrisss S


  1. Dana Anderson

    Powerful post…getting comfortable with solitude is a focal point and something I am learning to value more as each day passes.

    • Kerry Harriott

      Wonderful article!! The reinforcement and reminder of this information are always great.


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