Monday, May 18, 2015

Insecurity as a resource for leadership networks

A few days ago I had a bad headache and a tight belly, partly because I felt like I was doing work that was harmful. I was organizing an activity for a high-energy networking event for 1,100 community leaders from the region. The activity was a network map that showed how these 1,100 people knew each other. The more connections you had to others at this event, the larger of a dot you were on the map. At times, I felt like I was helping create a shallow popularity contest that encouraged posturing. As my head hurt, I was aware of how much self-doubt I had about my contributions to this event. As I paid more attention to this, I became aware of how much self-doubt many of the 1,100 participants were also bringing to the event and the potential connections they would make. Underneath the event preparation and activities, it felt like there was a strong, restless current, where most of us were trying to keep our heads above the water of these questions:
Do I really belong here? Will I be found out as a fraud?
Will my gifts be recognized and welcomed?

In the middle of this networking event, I was feeling drained and discouraged.  At that moment, a community artist who inspires me happened to walk up to me to ask about the network mapping activity I was working on. In our conversation, this artist surprised me by telling me about the self-doubts he had about how he fit in this large group of leaders. As he vulnerably and openly told me about this, I felt a wave of grace wash through us.

I've spent much of my life asking myself why I was so shy, and why I had such trouble connecting naturally with people around me. The morning after the event, I woke up early with a desire to reframe this history of self-doubt and insecurity. I saw in a new way the value of the path I've been on from intense shyness to choosing a career as a group facilitator that stretched my natural tendencies. My own experiences have increased my attention to and compassion for these insecurities.  That morning, I felt called to a new way of facilitating connections and collaboration--a way that acknowledges and integrates our insecurities about belonging.  I felt the opportunity for healing of my habit of believing that I can't deeply and naturally connect with others. I felt a desire to continue my facilitation work, but from a place of compassion for those hidden insecurities about belonging that are in me and many others I work with.

If we see leadership as something that a small number of powerful individuals do, the hidden doubts we have as leaders will probably always feel lonely and alienating. If we see leadership as an activity that anyone can do, as a way of taking responsibility and initiative for what we care about--then our weaknesses and doubts can point us to the ways we need each other. If leadership is something we do together, my limitations can open up space for connection and opportunity for others.

The network mapping team that I was working with at this event repeatedly showed me the ways that our mix of strengths and weaknesses added up to a larger, more beautiful whole, as this photo of our team demonstrates.

5 comments:

Kristin Johnstad said...

Lovely. Lovely. Lovely.

Here is to the continue courage needed to bring our full selves and fullest selves to each moment.

CECapra said...

Thanks for the inspiration, Michael! Wholeness has to include all that stuff we normally prefer to hide.

2008 GSE Minnesota to Finland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Cohen said...

Thanks for sharing what so many of us feel, Michael. I had a similar experience at a weekend event for philanthropic leaders and kept asking myself, "Why am I here? What value do I bring to this group of amazing leaders?" It wasn't until a couple of weeks later that I was able to articulate what I brought to that experience. Here's to hoping that gets easier to see as we realize how many of us share these same doubts and fears.

Michael Bischoff said...

I'm glad to know we share some of those doubts, Julie. Since I know some of the amazing contributions you make to the world, that helps reassure me that I'm in good company.