Last month we explored 2 ways to heal your control wound. Today let’s address a different wound – the performance wound. As we get closer to quarter or year end, financial performance is top of mind. There are actually so many ways people measure or compare themselves, and it is all too easy to feel in some way not good enough. As an executive coach I get a lot of questions around this topic. How to tell the truth without triggering this almost toxic unworthiness that may linger not far below the surface in our direct reports or partners? I want to share my way of understanding this wound, as well as two approaches on how to address it.

Conditional Love

When we are little, most of us get trained on the idea we have to perform to be worthy of love. Have to be good, be liked, score high marks. The more superheroic the accomplishment, the more admiration we earn from the adults on whom our well being depends.

We tend to respond in one of two ways: superior or shy. On one end, I might try to be more than I am – which easily comes off as superior. I so want to demonstrate my worth, that it looks to others like I think I’m better than them. Arrogant or boastful. Even though, from the inside, I’m just looking for acceptance.

On the other end, I might come across as shy, preferring not to be seen. I show up as less than I am. I don’t want the suffering of how others perceive me, so why bother? People can feel how I am not sharing my full spirit with them. Even though, from the inside, again I am just looking for acceptance. 

Either way–trying to be more or showing up as less–inhibits our unique gift. Boastfulness is uninspiring, but shyness keeps you hiding! The people around you ultimately want to feel confidence in who you are exactly as you are, someone who makes them feel worthy, welcome, encouraged and empowered. 

Here are 2 approaches you can take… 

Identify The Payoff

Whether the person is trapped in trying to be more or in showing up as less, he or she is doing it for a reason. Explore with them what the payoff might be. Usually they can see what the behavior gives them. Maybe more attention or freedom, less risk of being held accountable for failure or of being found out in some way. Once admitted, they can probably tell how small that thinking is. How much it is costing in terms of limiting success or happiness. 

Then you have one of those great moments as a leader. You have someone in front of you who is willing to think bigger. And you can train them to open up to this new horizon. Encourage them. Set them a stage with opportunity for expansive creative thinking. Applaud even baby steps in that direction.

Create a Vision Space

If a person is out of the habit of expressing his or her genuine visionary self, it is easy for their bigger-thinking, more future-oriented creativity to get drowned out by the urgency of day-to-day events. 

Help them create a dedicated space. Such a space can be marked by time–a special slot in the calendar for vision work–or a physical space. Perhaps a mountain where they frequently go hiking, or a corner of a room they find meditative. Invite them to keep sacred their special time or place to think as big and as grand as they can! 

What a gift it is to allow someone to connect with their own vision and to foster that part of them, encouraging them to be fully who they are without asking them in any way to perform to anybody else’s standards.


David Lesser