In my last post I pondered the state of leadership behaviour in the world, and how interesting it has been to see people tussling with what it all means. In most cases very little understanding emerges.

We could pull at a hundred years of psychological theory and evidence, but in the end, there is a simpler formula and language that can help. I wish I could claim it as my own, but it is the visionary and determined work of Stephen and Mara Klemich (the founders of Heartstyles – who have developed a framework that is so compelling it has changed the way I understand my own and others behaviours. As with most genius, it seems simple, but the deeper you dive into the heart of it, the more it awakens awareness and meaningful, transformative insight.

To understand our behaviour we need to first acknowledge that it often starts with persistent, nagging questions that we may ask all our lives – Am I ok? Do I belong? and Am I worthy?

The world responds inconsistently to this question. The answers are often laden with conditions and paradox. Sometimes we are ok, then at other times we are not. To ensure our acceptance we decide to try harder, be better and do all we can to be noticed and praised. We don’t say no when we should, we work late and try to please everyone (and become stressed, and tired and sick), but despite our immense effort to stand out, it’s never quiet enough. We still don’t get the answer we crave and can eventually become exasperated at the lack of approval. Our defensiveness against any signs of rejection, negative feedback or disapproval rises and people are no longer honest with us. We are too plain touchy. And all we wanted was to be accepted and liked.

So we try harder, with a new strategy, to ensure we control as much as we can in our lives. If we can manipulate it all, then we can determine what others think of us. But the more we control, the more we invariably disempower others and they begin to resent and judge us. But we keep at it and tell ourselves that maybe if we can be the very best, by winning, and others losing, then we will be accepted, and we will have to be noticed. So we battle away, trying to get ahead and we might genuinely succeed or cut corners, damage relationships, maybe cheat and steal. Still it seems enough is never enough and the world doesn’t flood us with acceptance and approval. And so finally, after having expended so much energy, we tend to give up, become disengaged, cynical and dependent on just doing what it takes to fit in. We lose heart and confidence in ourselves and spiral into meaninglessness and emptiness. We become bitter and start to blame others for our discontent and eventually we become victims (and create victims).

When last did you spiral into disengagement and cynicism, and might that have been because those around you didn’t answer your request to feel like you belong? Does this help you understand your incessent need for more material things? For more accolades and triumphs?

So what happened to some of our most erratic world leaders? It’s hard to know exactly, but it’s pretty clear that at the core of all their bluster and self-promotion is a simple question they, and many millions, if not billions like them, are asking the world – are we worthy? All these wounded people vote for the wounded leader and the more the media and public rejects and criticizes them, the more defensive they become. The more they seek to win, to control and prove they are worthy … and the sad cycle continues over and over again.

I believe there are millions in the world who feel the same pain of low self-esteem and then hitch their self-worth to people in power who are like them.  When those people are arguably the most powerful people in the world, that becomes an impossible influence and threat to ignore. So is it the leaders who are at fault and must change? or do we as human beings need to elevate our sense of worth beyond those we have chosen as our leaders?

Is there a way to change that cycle of destructive, and ineffective behaviours? and how do we do it, one person at a time, you and me right now? The answer lies in the question.

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