Hidden Conflicts Hobble Women Leaders
Invisible Conflicts that Plague All Women Leaders
Boxes and boxes of bestselling books have been written about the external conflicts that challenge leaders. Disagreements flourish between upper management and board members and among C-suite leaders and middle management. Disputes between team members stifle productivity. The H.R. department is often blamed for difficulties attracting talented recruits. Many R&D innovators despise accountants when they present gloomy balance sheets. Unions badger management. Unhappy customers complain to customer service staff. Quality control staff slam on the brakes, struggling to stop the marketing department from premature product releases that will damage a company’s reputation. The list seems endless in today’s complex, polarized society.
It is quite rare to read explorations of the internal, highly conflicted voices that babble away inside every leader, no matter how confident, competent and clear they appear to be. Leaders, like all humans, possess components of their personalities that clash like squabbling siblings clamoring to claim an over-worked parent’s limited attention.
All of our parts have specific needs, preferences and an often rigid point of view. Our parts could peacefully co-exist if they would all select the same sheet music with the sole objective of producing a splendid symphony.
Why Don’t Our Parts Perform in Four-Part Harmony?
Unlike a musical symphony produced by a conductor who carefully chooses team players who will support each other’s work, the internal parts of our personalities are a mismatched, motley crew of discontents, zealots and other opinionated parties with rival objectives. Our personal parts have never set the intention to collaborate with the other players in our invisible, internal daily dramas. The parts of us that fear their needs will never be met struggle mightily to monopolize our attention, hoping their desires and demands will finally dominate.
We created our diverse parts at different stages of our maturation, often in response to a challenging phase of life. This includes phases of life when we faced criticism by people who were important to us during that time of development. Here’s just one example: Natural leaders who spontaneously take initiative to create positive change may have developed a counterpart that sometimes hides their brilliant natural leadership light if they were misunderstood or frequently disparaged as a child or a young adult.
If put-downs like, “You’re too big for your britches” and “Just who do you think you are?” weren’t balanced with, “Okay, you have a good idea we’ll consider,” the budding leader’s confidence waned over time. It’s not unusual for adult authority figures to be irritated, offended or even intimidated by a young natural leader’s extraordinary inner strength and spirited nature.
Even after this natural leader leaves childhood in their rear-view mirror, an invisible push-pull can be triggered that hurts all parties involved, including organizations starved for innovative ideas. The result? When one part of the potential trailblazer observes a problem, it confidently and passionately pipes up, “I know how to solve this!” This healthy inner voice is quickly squelched by a protective part that warns, “It’s not safe to share your ideas! You won’t be appreciated. You’ll be misunderstood, criticized and shamed.”
The Power and Pitfalls of a Woman Leader’s Unseen Parts
The potency of a women leader’s unseen parts can be quite profound. Unlike visible skirmishes in our external work world, like quarrels among personnel arguing over scarce resources, the leader’s internal power struggles are often unidentified. If we are unaware of our inner civil war, we may never understand why we hold ourselves back from taking important actions we know could benefit everyone concerned. We’ll underestimate the potential of unseen parts of ourselves to interfere with our leadership abilities.
Some of our unconscious internal battles are fairly inconsequential or easily resolved. When you read the examples below, notice how much more intensely our internal voices clash as fear escalates.
Solutions to Women Leaders’ Unseen Battles
Although it seems counter intuitive, every part of us, even when it is stalling our success, has a positive intention. The resistant parts of us simply need to be re-educated. Most of our parts were created when we were much younger and had fewer life skills and choices. Resistant parts of us still think they must protect us from the positive changes we want.
Trying to shut these hard-working parts of ourselves down usually backfires like a mis-timed engine that creates an explosive fire hazard. Instead of fueling our internal conflicts, we can create a permanent solution. We can discover and honor the positive intentions of our misinformed parts. The key is to befriend these parts and help them discover a new job description, which expands our world to exciting new leadership possibilities.
The first steps to a truce that will create inner peace and elevate our leadership abilities include the following.
The diverse parts of your personality will either propel your journey to peak performance or sabotage your leadership. The above steps will help you identify your parts so you can manage internal conflicts, which challenge all women leaders.
The Role of the Woman Leader’s Limiting Beliefs
Western culture and most families often socialize girls to deny or hide their personal power and healthy assertiveness. Girls are frequently told in subtle and direct ways that they are less capable or valuable than males. Because women leaders in politics and CEO positions are still rare and because male leaders are more likely to select other men for leadership roles, many women are programmed to believe that men will continue to dominate in executive positions. This message is carved in a corporate stone when women leaders are recognized, promoted and paid at a lower level than their male peers.
Are you a woman leader in a male-dominated environment? Do you want to be a stellar role model for emerging women leaders while you serve as an exemplary leader? If so, it’s especially critical that you identify and challenge the limiting beliefs of your parts. One of the most valuable women’s leadership success tips I can give you is to counter any internal parts that try to convince you that you’re not as worthy or capable as a man.
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© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. as interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Certified Master Leadership and Executive Coach Doris Helge is author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job,” Doris has helped hundreds of leaders like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Click here to gain the Women’s Leadership Success Strategies you need.