To Lead Boldly Embrace Your Inner Loser

To-Lead-Boldly-Embrace-Your-Inner-Loser-Henna-InamDoes fear of failure hold you back in your leadership? True story.  A few weeks ago I had a rather large speaking engagement.  It was with an audience larger than I usually speak in front of, with content I hadn’t delivered before.  The night before the conference I set the alarm for 6 am.  I was to meet the conference organizers at 7:30 am for an 8:30am start. Next thing I know it is 8:30am and I am just waking up.  First, I can’t find the shoes I’m supposed to wear.  Next, I can’t find my car keys.  When I find my car keys, my car has disappeared from the garage.  I can feel my heart about to jump out of my chest. Finally, I wake up and it’s 4 AM in the morning. Does this ever happen to you? It’s basic fear of failure. And for us to be more authentic leaders, we need to embrace our fear of being a loser. Here’s why.

Fear of Failure

Our fears are completely normal and served our ancestors well.  If our cavemen ancestors failed to notice the lioness stalking, they faced some dire consequences.  Our bodies have thus evolved to put ourselves in high alert when we detect threats.  The problem is that our brains haven’t evolved to distinguish between physical threats and threats to our self-esteem.  This state of threat also inhibits our performance, creativity, productivity, empathy, and ability to collaborate with others.  That’s just great. Pass the Valium.

How Fear of Failure Undermines Authentic Leadership

The problem with failure is that we take ours very personally. The inner critic says, “Gosh, if I fail at this, it means that I mustn’t be good enough, and if I’m not good enough then no one will love me.”  It comes from our basic survival mechanism as mammals where in order to survive, we needed to be loved and taken care of by others.  We all have a secret suspicion that we’re really losers and no one will love us if we let them see our inner loser.

This fear keeps us in “performance mode”.  It prevents us from letting our guard down with others.  The most self-assured and authentic leaders are not afraid to be vulnerable, to show their flaws, to share their failures.  That’s because they are already comfortable with their inner loser and know that their inner loser is part of the shared human experience, and in no way undermines their fundamental self-worth.

Leadership Practice – Embrace Your Inner Loser

A critical step to be more authentic in our leadership is to get comfortable with not being perfect.  Here is an exercise I’ve tried that works for me.  Get yourself a piece of paper and write down:

“I know that I am not perfect because (list past failure or “fatal flaw”), but I know I’m okay anyway because (list some things that are strengths, accomplishments etc).”

This exercise is a great one for giving ourselves a break. We may not be perfect but we can still be okay.  It takes the sting out of failure because we don’t attach failure to our basic worthiness.  Writing it down was hard for me.  Reading it out loud several times helped. Then saying it in front of someone else is the real challenge, but it gets easier with time.

Here are some examples of sentences I wrote for myself:

“That wasn’t the perfect coaching session because we didn’t accomplish our original objectives, but I am still okay because the client had a couple of big aha moments.”

“I’m not the best presenter because I didn’t have the best cadence or posture, but I am still okay because I connected with the audience – people came up to me to tell me how inspired they were by what I shared.”

Stepping into our authenticity is stepping into our real power.” ~ Henna Inam Tweet This!

Our authenticity is the source of our power

As we let go of the need to succeed every time, we have less anxiety, take more risks, and start to see every challenge as a learning opportunity vs. a proving opportunity.  We can also appreciate the complimentary skill sets of others while accepting their flaws.  As we get more comfortable in our own skin, we can help others be more comfortable in theirs.

Once we accept ourselves with our flaws, it doesn’t make us complacent. It actually helps us move forward with greater confidence.  Ironically, accepting ourselves just as we are is the greatest catalyst to our own growth.  Embracing our inner loser unleashes our inner superhero – because we are less afraid to just be ourselves.  Stepping into our authenticity is stepping into our real power.

 

About Henna Inam

This article was written by Henna Inam, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. She works with women to help them realize their potential to be authentic, transformational leaders. They create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth, and engagement. Her corporate clients include Coca Cola, UPS, Nestle, J&J, and others who know female leadership talent is good for business.

Connect with Henna Inam

Comments

  1. Great post thank you for sharing. I love your comment “The problem with failure is that we take ours very personally.” isn’t that the truth – so often we get caught up in our own little stories in the movie of our own lives and lose perspective of what is real.
    Embracing our Uniqueness and authenticity as you suggest is key to keeping things real. A trick I use to change my patterns is when I am feeling fear, or something doesn’;t go to plan, or I notice I am anxious is to just pause and observe where in my body I notice the feeling and then say to myself “Isn’t that interesting” it takes the momentum out of the fear and replaces it with curiosity.

    • Hi Heidi – Thanks for your comment. What a great suggestion to notice the emotion in our body and get curious…it brings ourselves out of the drama and become the witness to the drama! Love it. I’m going to try it. I’m sure it takes mindfulness to practice this.

      Henna

  2. Hi Henna. I believe we all have had a similar dream at one time or another. How very frightening at the time! Your words help us all realize that we are all human. (And I am happy about that!) Thank you for a great post.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Susan. I’m glad we are all “coming out of the closet” on our fears and imperfections. It certainly makes our workplaces more human and our connections more authentic.

  3. Love the quote and the article! There is power, confidence, success and joy in authenticity.

  4. Hi Henna – really powerful post! Being vulnerable runs so counter to how most people think leaders ought to behave that it can be quite hard to put in practice. But the rewards of opening up in terms of connecting with others and providing an open environment where team members feel free to be their own authentic vulnerable selves make it so worthwhile. Great post!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Katy. Sounds like you’re a believer in vulnerability – - as hard as it is to practice. Keep spreading the message! I agree it is a powerful basis for connection.

  5. Great exercise you are proposing Henna. And a difficult one too :-). But as you say, a very useful one to learn to embrace your inner looser.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    All the best,

    Joan

    • Thanks Joan. The exercise was a hard one for me too! I had to really come clean with myself…and that’s the part that is the first step in being authentic…coming clean with ourselves and being okay with our short-comings.

  6. Thanks Henna for a great post, I love the phrase ‘embrace your inner loser’! There is a fine line between our anxieties sharpening performance and becoming debilitating, and accepting and even sharing our vulnerabilities is a great way to engage others in helping us and following us. And denying it is a pretty useless exercise since it tends to emphasise non-congruence in what we say and what we do – much easier to spot than we hope and a real question mark against our authenticity.
    Warm wishes

    David

    • Thanks for sharing your ideas David. We all have parts of ourselves that are flawed and our inner critics really want to reject them – when what we really need to do is embrace them. Your’re right. Trying to be perfect is a losing battle in authenticity.

  7. I enjoyed this article, Henna. Fear of failure has been a constant companion throughout my several successes. It’s not pleasant, and yes, you bolt upright in bed thinking about how you might screw up. But I see the alternative: people who seem to think they deserve success and don’t consider the possibility of goofing up, and so they do goof up. Accepting your own imperfections and a team’s weaknesses are an excellent strategy to hit where you are the strongest, and avoid failures at your weak links. But to do that you need a healthy respect for failure and, yes, enough fear to have an aversion. I wouldn’t be being authentic if I said I’m not afraid of failure. I hate it, fear it, avoid it. When it happens I learn from it because I hate failing. I speak publicly and have gotten good by accepting the possibility that I can fail (because I have). I focus on the material, not myself (because there’s no percentage in that), and giving the audience the best shot at understanding the content.

    • Thanks for your contribution. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced fear of failure. It’s actually a very useful trait for our survival. The mistake we make is letting it stop us from getting what we really want.

      I like to think of fear of failure like indigestion…we don’t let it stop us from eating our favorite slice of pizza, do we?

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