I did not become a CEO by being emotionally healthy and well adjusted.
I did not become a public speaker and talk to 400,000 people because I was interested in them as individuals.
I did not embrace the idea of empowering others with fear of failure chasing me like a junkyard dog.
I did not understand that success and happiness are not the same. No matter what shows up on my title or W-2.
Leaders are made a lot of ways. And not always because we were shaped by a happy, sunshine filled, ride-a-pony upbringing. More often than not, it is just the opposite. The fuel that drives leaders often times has its genesis in our early development. Our beliefs about ourselves are well founded way before anyone gives us a shot at career advancement. I think a lot of leaders reading this know this to be true for themselves. My story is certainly the case. My self beliefs were steeped in a youth of turbulence, instability, and trouble. I am frankly the last guy who should have made it this far.
Without really knowing it I started my leadership with an emotional platform of fear and insecurity; that I mistook for confidence. Ultimately it got filed under the need to prove myself. Over and over and over again. And that resulted in me being a very driven, aggressive and effective leader; as well as a grade A insecure asshole.
But through leadership trial and error (mostly error), I was able to evolve and grow. And it is this I want to share with you. The rewards of leaving that fear and ego bullshit all behind. As a leader. As an influencer. As a family member. As a person.
Simply put, here it is. After all the striving, proving and grinding you just might find, that happiness and success are not the same thing. As a leader, it is not about the money, title, power or validation. They are nice rewards no doubt, but as a leader, it’s more about each person that we can influence in a positive way in this life. And we as leaders truly have this obligation and opportunity.
A lot of us become top leaders because we are compelled. Our fire burns red hot. Our need is to succeed and overcome. Driven by what? The raw fear of failure. The hole we are trying to fill. The respect we didn’t get. The self image we are constructing to feel real. Often we are carry forward our baggage to simply prove ourselves; over and over and over without resolution. We grind and push and are willing to die on the hill to show we are worthy in the eyes of others. Fuck that. No one else makes us worthy. No external validation makes us real or human. Service and love of self and others is the ticket. It’s not about us. It’s about the people we love and lead, care about and influence.
After abandoning my endless idiotic quest for validation, I have tried above all, to make it about anyone else but me. But my old habits and the ego die hard. It takes a lot of work. So as a leader I have to be less “the man” and more accepting of myself as a flawed but battle scarred human with the lessons I have paid for on deposit. I have to be careful I don’t slip backwards. And simply hope to see with clarity more each day.
If you are willing to really be the authentic person that you really are, you will reap rewards far beyond the validation, proving and other stuff that substitutes for real impact. What this takes is three things; Self knowledge. First, you have to do the work on yourself and solicit the painful feedback and advice that crushes your ego and builds your authentic self. Next you have to decide what’s important and act on it. Sounds simple? If so, why don’t more people do it? Yeah, how many people you know are really truly emotionally healthy and secure? How many have marriages you want? How many people have a level of health and well being that you think; oh yeah I want that too. How many people get their priorities right without epic failure as their teacher? And the third and final aspect, you have to understand that this life is short and valuable and that you better do something remarkable before it passes you by. Hey, just want to make a shitload of money and play golf? Good for you. Stop reading now.
I know I am annoying some of you. There’s nothing worse than a reformed smoker or anyone who gives you advice you didn’t ask for. But in writing this I am not proud of who I was and why I was that way. The advice given is simply so you don’t travel my path or pay the price like I have.
Remember your success is not always your friend. Your amazing skills and tendencies may also be your greatest burden. Sometimes we have to risk giving up the approaches and behaviors that “made” us successful to get to a different way to influence and care about others. With that comes fear of change and failure. But it all starts – for me and for every leader reading this today – with the realization that it is not about us. It is about them. And when you see it, believe it and act on it – you will share in the greatest reward leadership has to offer; to both touch the lives of many, and change you for the better.