THERE ARE THREE WORDS THAT ARE KILLING OUR CONFIDENCE.
More than that, they are damaging our workplace confidence, especially in leaders. I understand why these words are being used. They are catchy. They are marketable. They address a pain point. They solve a problem. They are what we THINK we want in our life. Because we see them so often in marketing materials, they slowly perpetuate a lie and an unreachable and unreasonable standard for leadership. Here are my thoughts on these dangerous words:
#1: FEARLESS: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FEARLESS LEADER.
Fearless leadership is not leadership. The very definition of leadership is going where no one has gone before. Our brains are biologically wired to keep us safe and avoid danger at all costs. Oftentimes, our brains work over time and keep us safe even from that which benefits us. To imply that leaders should be fearless is shaming them when they feel the natural fear and apprehension that comes with leadership. This can have devastating results on the emotional safety of the individual and those around them.
#2 UNSTOPPABLE: LEADERS WHO ARE UNSTOPPABLE ARE DANGEROUS.
Of course, we want to be unstoppable. We want to “crush goals” and “slay the day.” We want to achieve our maximum potential. But being unstoppable literally means that you can not be stopped. The worst time in my life – both personally and professionally – was the time when I was unstoppable. I received awards and accolades and was determined to do so at all costs. I bulldozed people and burned bridges to get my results. Using this word feeds the notion that we can’t be bothered to pause and reconsider our goals and our approach to those goals. Again, this can have devastating results in the emotional safety of the individual and those around them.
#3 PAINLESS: LEADERS WHO AVOID PAIN, AVOID RESULTS.
I see this most often in my field with tag lines like: “Painless Public Speaking!” Let’s be clear: nothing worth doing is painless. Any skill, especially those skills required in leadership takes a lot of hard and grueling work. Yes, we can use strategies to work smarter, not harder, but it will never be painless. When we use this word, our leaders begin to think that there is a way to make everything easy and without conflict. But it is only IN that struggle and conflict that we find the best breakthroughs in our leadership. And, yes, again, this can have devastating results on the emotional safety of the individual and those around them.
We push back against the caricature of the bulldozing leader, the one who will stop at nothing to get the results they need. We preach empathy, connection, and compassion. And yet, we are still perpetuating the myth that leaders must be impenetrable and invincible. Leaders must be allowed to be human to thrive.
Leaders must be allowed to be open to leading teams that thrive. While these marketable words are being used with the best intentions in mind, I believe that using them in the context of leadership is damaging the work we are doing to build connected and compassionate teams.