Sometimes when I meet a new client for private leadership mentoring, the conversation goes something like this:
“I struggle with my colleagues. Relationships are not my best skill. I’m overworked and find it hard to say no and cope with what is asked of me. My work is slipping, things are tense at home, and I’m feeling swamped.”
It’s a pattern I see often: poor inner narrative expressed as leadership challenges.
We let our inner poop sabotage our capacity for connection and influence.
The triad of devilishness is:
I wince every time I hear expressions of these. It’s like watching someone whack themselves with a barbed stick. We have a disease of self-flagellation and it’s shackling our ability to be who we need to be in moments that matter most. Like with our family, with our colleagues, with our clients.
Deflection is the martial art of inner demons. It’s when we deflect all good things that come to us: compliments, reassurance, hugs, help, assistance. We have an enormous shield that we wield, watching for incoming expressions of appreciation and admiration.
We may have a default inner narrative that goes something like, “I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy, they don’t really mean it, they’re just being nice.”
Where does this come from?
Likely from some deep recess of our childhood days. It doesn’t matter. We don’t want to wallow in it and breathe more life into this unhelpful inner recording. That’s akin to wailing and crying to the skies, ‘mea culpa, mea culpa!’ This is a salve to the inner demons.
What we want is to replace that inner demon with something more constructive. Like just accepting a compliment, and saying thanks, instead of trying to diminish it in some way.
Denigration is the discipline stick of the inner demons. It’s how we beat ourselves up and punish ourselves for being inadequate and disappointing.
We know the inner demons are in full swing when we catch ourselves saying, “I’m such an idiot! I can’t believe I did that! I really suck at that. I screwed up. I’m such a loser.”
Denigration occurs every time we finish the phrase, “I am…” with something negative, or if we criticise our efforts without any learning or application.
Sometimes we do screw up. We make mistakes. We react rather than respond. We overlook something important. This is only a problem if:
• It’s a chronic pattern.
• We don’t learn from it.
• We didn’t really try.
I have yet to meet a leader who doesn’t really try. The one’s with the worst demons are the ones who try the most! So why the inner demon of denigration?
We haven’t learned to turn our inner critic to an inner critique. Again, it’s likely a pattern that emerged from some dark and damaging incident or experience from our more impressionable days that we haven’t fully healed from.
It doesn’t matter where it came from. We can change it. Replace, “I am such a …” with “What can I learn from this to be better?”
Dissolution is probably the worst of the devilish weapons. It is a crushing of self for an alleged noble cause. Cue all the martyrs here.
This looks like the mother who works all day, rushes home to make dinner, do laundry, tidy the house, and feed herself last. It is sometimes known as the burned sausage syndrome. If at a barbecue, the mother will feed all the good meat to her partner, the children, and the guests, and then nibble what is left – usually the burned sausage.
In men, it’s the good father syndrome: bust your butt all day at work, poignantly aware that you’re responsible for feeding many mouths, rush home to take over parenting duties, play with kids, chauffeur them around to sport activities, and on the weekend do errands, fix things around the house (because that is what manly men do), and maybe sneak a beer in there somewhere. These men are often on anti-depressants.
It’s the self-last principle at play. It’s based on good intentions: to be a good parent, be a good boss, be a good friend.
Now I’ve deliberately exaggerated stereotypes to make a point. And it’s not just leaders with families. There are plenty of leaders who do everyone else’s bidding – for friends, for family, for their colleagues and supervisor, and leave themselves to last.
The truth is that martyrs end up dead. Metaphorically, our true self ends up dead. We dissolve our identity, our soul, in service to other people.
Because that’s what we’re supposed to do: be good to other people.
It’s a poor rationale for self-effacement. We can stop this insanity by re-defining our identity, as leaders of our own lives first, that we matter as individuals. Fill up our own well until it overflows, and then we have more than enough to give.
The triad of devilishness is really a recipe for self-destruction. If we don’t master this, we let our own personal mess poop all over our personal power. We’ve got no hope of making the most of moments that matter, let alone recognising them, if we don’t master our inner incubus.
So, let’s keep it simple:
• Accept compliments with thanks.
• Talk to yourself with kindness.
• Look after yourself first so there is more of you to give.
Which of the triad of devilishness do you fall prey to most often? What do you commit to changing?