In the last few years, my day job has shifted from CEO to coach. As a coach, I am privileged to speak with new leaders every week.
I often hear leaders speak of ‘someone else’:
If someone else was running this company, they would do better.
There is no way other CEOs doubt themselves as much as I do.
I feel like this company would be better off in the hands of someone else.
As a coach, I often find myself asking who this someone else is. What are the names of these leaders you have met who never feel anxious or never wake up at 3 AM worried about some fire happening in the business? Who are these brilliant, monk-like, Ivy-educated impervious leaders who never blink in the face of uncertainty?
Who is this mythical CEO?
Despite meeting thousands of CEOs, I have never met this unicorn.
So far, neither have any of the leaders I have spoken with.
At best, they point to someone they have read about but never met.
Nonetheless, they hold that mythical leader up as the bar for their own success.
To judge myself a success, the story goes, I must do more than lead my team through the trials and explorations of building something from nothing. I must do it without anxiety, without missteps, without making any mistakes along the way.
The business, my abilities, and my emotions must at all times be ‘up and to the right.’ And with that as the bar for success, each of these leaders, just as I did, fall short.
As a result, in addition to juggling the fears and uncertainties of leading an organization, they find themselves navigating severe self-incrimination.
Let yourself off the hook. You are not perfect. Leadership brings with it difficulty decisions, anxieties, and very hard questions.
This is not school. There is no perfect.
The path to freedom is not perfection. The path, by contrast, as best I can understand it, is paved with self-compassion.
When we let go of the bar of perfect, we can accept and care for ourselves exactly where we are. When move from a state of self-criticism to self-acceptance, even in the face of our own imperfections, we can begin to lean back into curiosity and creativity. We can face the challenges at hand from a grounded, resourced place. We can be present with our team in those hard questions.
We can lead.
Improved leadership begins with letting go of the myths we hold and accepting ourselves and our organizations exactly where we are.