Ask Our Friend – Q: “How Important is a Leader’s Relationship with Themselves?”

February 20, 2018 Transformation Tuesday
Meet Marilyn Finch Williams, LCSW/Founder of MEDIAN Center for Resilience and Brain Training!
Our “Ask a Friend” content feature is designed to provide our Transform community members with access to professional subject matter experts who provide answers and insights to relevant questions we pose.

In A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, my mentor, Dr. Edwin Friedman, highlights traits of healthy leadership. “Among other traits,” he writes, “a good leader tends to look at one’s own stuckness, instead of analyzing others.”

If my 35 years as Therapist, Coach and Relationship expert have convinced me of nothing else, it is the simple, yet complex truth that the most intimate relationship one will ever have is with their own thoughts. When my friends at Transform, Inc. asked me to inaugurate their Ask Our Friend series by addressing the question, “How Important is a Leader’s Relationship with Themselves?,” my immediate thoughts were somewhere between, “Nothing else is more important,” and “Let me count the ways.” I would go so far as to say that not having a healthy and continuously evolving relationship with oneself is the root cause of most problems with leadership.

Even in our age of increasing technological acceleration, healthy and effective leadership — whether in a company, a department, or family — is still about relationships. The quality of one’s relationships always mirrors the one you have with yourself. Yet, this connection is often overlooked and sometimes trivialized as too “touchy-feely” by leadership experts (not by Mary Anne and Theresa (thank goodness! 😉 who focus on data and externalities, be it the bottom line or other people.

Variations of the old maxim state: we treat others, either as we treat ourselves or, as we would like to be treated. Yet we spend so little time and effort getting to know ourselves. I am talking here, not about narcissism or self-care — as a colleague of mine says, “After all, one can only get so many massages or manicures 😉 — but of self-awareness.”

Many of us — high-productivity, somewhat over-functioning types — go immediately to the “How To’s” without recognizing the importance of understanding our own inner dialogue and motivations. So anxious are we to move beyond the discomfort to get to the “fix,” that we rush to fill the cavity without bothering to clean out the decay.

So if good leadership is a result of good relationships, how “good” is your relationship with yourself? Do you take the time to really become conscious of your inner dialogue?

Coaching and self-help literature is replete with ways and means to cultivate awareness, be it meditation practice or a walk in the woods. The point is to have an intention to become aware of what is taking place inside and then, take the crucial next step, to set about the business of sorting out truth from opinion.

For simplicity’s sake, I find it helpful to view the self as having two aspects—our ego (most thinking) and our inner truth (essential being). As you may have learned from studying the Enneagram of Personality, our thinking is not to be equated with Truth. Most of my clients initially balk at the suggestion they should not “believe everything they think.”

Try this experiment; next time you are experiencing what you consider a negative emotion (especially if its triggered by another)—the usual suspects being anger, sadness, shame, doubt, fear (unless a tiger IS running toward you at that very moment)—or just discomfort you can’t name … STOP! LOOK (inside) and LISTEN! What are you saying to yourself about yourself? What meaning is your ego (or thinking) making out of your feeling? What are you thinking about your thoughts?

Example: You feel tired. If you are like me, this feeling can lead to thoughts such as, “Oh, no, I’ll never get this deadline met,” … “Where’s the coffee?’ … “You were stupid to stay up so late last night” … “You shouldn’t have been drinking” … “What if I nod off on a client? (Yes, it has happened 😉 … “What if, I then lose my practice?” Thus, our thoughts create fear, which leads to more untruthful thoughts, and usually unhealthy behaviors towards others, ad infinitum. You know what my dog does when he is tired? He curls up and takes a nap!

I’m not suggesting we can lead a life as fortunate as some of our pets, however we can look at how we relate to ourselves when we experience fatigue. Do we call ourselves names? Override our feelings? Or, do we just listen and help ourselves problem-solve to find the best solution for our overall well-being? It’s a short distance from the way we dialogue with ourselves to how we relate to – and thus, effectively – lead and motivate others.

Albert Einstein famously said: “No problem gets solved by the same consciousness that caused it.” Are you aware of what your consciousness is saying? How can you change that of which you are not aware?

Consider starting now, (or tomorrow morning ;-), by setting the intention Socrates’ suggested: to get to know yourself. Become conscious of your thoughts. Observe how you relate to yourself about yourself. Are you kind, or respectfully listening, to yourself as you would to a friend? Are you judging, critical, shaming? Try saying an inner “No” to those thoughts; thus, beginning a truly open and healthy relationship with oneself. I guarantee this will be the beginning of positive changes in all your relationships.

Marilyn Finch Williams, LCSW/Founder
MEDIAN Center for Resilience and Brain Training