Margaret was in a corner.  The promotion came at a great time.  She was really busy with her current responsibilities, and the added responsibilities would create some juggling, and require a closer focus.  There were certain to be sleepless nights ahead too.  But wow, it’s worth it.  Isn’t this all part of the plan of career success?

It seems weird she told me, “that in the beginning everyone seemed so excited about my new role.  They were talking supportive, but now that the dust has settled and the ink has dried on the all company communication announcement, everyone has gone back to their own world.  However my world, this new life with tons of added stuff to my already overflowing pile is killing me.  The balance is gone.  And because I’m known as the high achiever, and a win at all costs leader, I’ve quietly backed myself into a corner.  I’m quietly, silently dying.”

Self awareness is a silent deadly killer of many career climbs up the leadership ladder.  Our external view of the world around us has enabled us to see the path ahead on our way to that vision we set so long ago.  Looking around us, we gather resources, create alliances, recognize our detractors, and navigate the many obstacles on the road not yet taken.

The internal view of ourselves and realizing how other see us however, is slower to develop than our external senses.  Our “never do wrong” self perceptions are supported by close friends and family who always tell us we are great, we are successful, and we can do anything.  After-all, if people really do love you, why would they tell you what you are doing wrong?  You keep them close to support your strengths.

When the perceptions about you are changing towards the negative, selective listening takes priority.  Soon, the separation from reality becomes wide.  So wide in fact, that we may never accept the truth, until it is too late.  Self awareness, or the lack thereof, is the silent deadly killer of the rising leader.

Margaret had told me a story earlier in our Coaching relationship of her family.  They were like so many others we all know.  They were very close as she grew up.  Dad in particular was always there for Margaret.  Helping her, guiding her, celebrating her, and picking her up and dusting her off when she fell to failure.  Dad was extremely proud of Margaret as she grew into this young lady, ready to conquer the world.

As Margaret grew, college took her away from home, and after graduation her first job brought a move several states away.  The distance was made more comfortable for them as Margaret assured Dad she was doing great.  No need to worry about me Dad, she would remember saying.  You helped build me to be smart, tough, resilient, and not only a survivor, but a winner.  Every new exciting opportunity and promotion was shared over the phone or at holidays, and Dad beamed with pride.  Margaret’s self sufficiency helped to realize her parents dreams.

But something was now missing 20 years later.  Margaret still had issues and challenges.  Most times, she took care of them herself, but some were real tough falls.  Rather than looking for Dad to pick her up, she found ways to tough it out, and succeed on her own.  She wanted him to hear of the success, not the failures.  But as Margaret found herself in this corner, she felt lonelier than ever.  She missed having someone like Dad, looking over her shoulder waiting to help her as she tripped.

Its in times like this, that I wish my Dad and I were still as close as we used to be she said sadly through her glazing eyes.  Its during times like this I wish he would help me, but I guess he’s moved on to a different level of parenting, and perhaps he doesn’t care as much anymore.  Maybe he expects me to do it all myself.  But sometimes I just cant.

After a long pause, where Margaret probably counted every decorative pinhole in the suspended acoustic ceiling tile, I told her a story.  I told her of my life as a Dad.  Just like her Dad, I love my children, and celebrate their self sufficiency.  I admire their success, and really want to be there when they need me.  But just as I grew up and separated from the daily needs of support from my parents, my kids also separated from needing me.  And I was probably more sad than Margaret, because I have 5 successful self reliant kids of my own.  I too paused, and then said to Margaret, “you know, I wish one of my kids would ask me for help, but I’m not certain they need me anymore.  I just wish they would ask.”

Margaret looked up at me.  She laughed a bit nervously, and stated, “you know, I don’t even know if you have 5 children, or if the story is true.  But what I do know, is that I plan to call my dad and ask for help today.  I need him, but I think he also needs me”.

Margaret, lets go back to your corner.  Your high achieving do it all successful corner is a pretty lonely place.  You’ve created that corner, in part by wanting everyone around you to believe in the superwoman syndrome.  Congratulations.  You’ve succeeded.  This winning perception about you is just what you had hoped for.  They really admire you for all you can do.  They are amazed by your strength and ability to win under the most stressful of environments.  That’s your external view.  That is how you correctly view them seeing you.  You love the admiration from your Team and your peers.

But the real view, missed by your immature internal senses, are what your Team will glean from that perception.  You are so strong, and so successful, that even though they want to help, or feel they can offer a good resource, and might actually feel empowered by helping you, they perceive that you really don’t need them to help you.

Just like your Dad has learned to back off, and watch you succeed, your Team has figured it out.  They too, decided to back off and let you fight it alone.  Because that’s what you’ve shown them, that you can do it all yourself and don’t need any help.  And that perception Margaret, is killing you and will kill your climb up the Leadership ladder.

 And I should do what? she asked.

After another pause, she answered her own question.  After I call Dad, I’m going to gather my Team, and ask them to help me.  Like Dad, they’re waiting to be asked.  They still need me.


      • Who do you know has self awareness issues?
      • What can you do to become more self aware of the perceptions you create?
      • Where is a lack of self awareness killing your career?
      • When is the right time to increase your self awareness?
      • How will you discover the perceptions others have of you?


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