Acceptance & Approval

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You've just been promoted to lead your team. Several of your peers now subordinates - thought they should have got the job. They're angry that you were chosen...

A division of the company you lead is doing poorly. The woman you put in charge is your friend. In your heart you know she has to go, but...

 A powerful leader in the company wants you to go into the system and fudge some numbers. No one will find out, he says, and everyone else is on board...

The need for acceptance and approval is one of the most difficult challenges leaders face.  We all want to be liked. And, we all want to feel we belong. At the same time, leadership demands we step out of our comfort zone and make difficult, sometimes unpopular, decisions.

Tough decisions can turn people we thought were our allies – even our friends - into opponents. It is a difficult transformation to be one of the gang one day, and the target of mistrust, jealousy, unhealthy competition, and anger the next.

That can be hard to endure emotionally. Many of us step away from leadership in the face of such difficulties. We'd rather withdraw, or conform, than be shunned or blamed.

Acceptance and approval needs can also prevent us from taking a stand, making hard decisions or speaking truth to power. We go along with the crowd, rather than provide leadership, even when we believe they are headed in the wrong direction.

Check the newspapers. It doesn't take too long to see the signs of this malaise. Unethical business practices, moral failures, bullying and cover-ups undermine confidence in leaders and institutions. Many such abuses have their roots in acceptance and approval patterns.


FIVE QUESTIONS

Constantly worrying about what others think of us is the shortest distance to neurosis. Leadership is not a popularity contest. We must develop the mental and emotional strength to do the right thing, even though it may be unpopular.

Where does this strength come from? Self-respect. When we trust ourselves, stay true to our values, and act from our commitments rather than what others think of us, we build inner confidence.

Doing our job does not mean we must be a punching bag for others. If we have acceptance and approval issues, though, we find it hard to set limits and boundaries to address this kind of abuse.

As leaders, we need courage to overcome our acceptance and approval needs. While it is always more pleasant to be liked, it must not be a requirement. The need to be liked can cloud our judgment. Five questions support the development of  inner strength.


1. What Are My Leadership Beliefs?

When we know where we stand it is easier to hold our ground when challenges appear. Leaders who have an ethical framework to guide them with difficult decisions generally sleep better at night. Such guidelines help us in those moments when we are invited to betray our beliefs, an invitation that we need to decline! Putting acceptance needs over the good of the family, team or organization is never an act of leadership. Servant leadership, for example, makes the right use of power and developing people its two guiding beliefs. What are your leadership beliefs that are more powerful than the need to fit in?


2. What are my Core Values?

Leadership beliefs are anchored by values and principles. What are the rock-solid ethical standards that guide my thoughts and actions? These reference points are especially important if I am making decisions that involve money, relationships, or power. These are areas where leaders most often stumble. If I value conflict avoidance over doing the right thing, my future is predictable. I will eventually find myself in hot water with the law, regulatory agencies, or communities. Think Wall Street, politics and the Church. As John W. Gardiner suggests: "Our problem is not to find better values but to be faithful to those we profess."


3. What Are My Responsibilities?

There are three sets of responsibilities that must be managed by leaders: responsibility to self, others and the larger community. If we have acceptance and approval needs we often find it difficult to juggle all three. Most often, we sacrifice our own needs to appease the demands of others, and avoid conflict. At what price? The greater good is often sacrificed because of weak-heartedness. That places whole enterprises in jeopardy. For example, The Great Recession of 2008 was caused in large part by systematic corruption and conflict of interest in the financial sector. It could have been averted if people in leadership had considered the three responsibilities. Did acceptance and approval needs cloud the judgment of those who should have known better?  Likely. The need to follow the herd, mixed with an unhealthy dollop of greed, is a toxic and destructive combination.


4. What Are My Limits and Boundaries?

Healthy relationships, at home or work, are sustained by good limits and boundaries. Careful consideration must be given to what I can and can't tolerate in order to be true to myself. This is bedrock for a code of conduct. Do I allow myself to be taken advantage of, feel guilty for doing my job, or be bullied into doing something that makes me uncomfortable? These are all signals that I am past my limits and boundaries. Being honest and direct is a way to address those who test us. Being assertive in a respectful way is an act of leadership.


5. What Are My Triggers?

Being self-aware is an important way of monitoring acceptance and approval traps. Feelings of discomfort, stress and resentment are signs that I have been triggered. Rather than ignoring my own early warning system – and bypassing it- paying attention to how I feel is a vigilant first step. Asking myself why I feel that way helps diffuse automatic responses. The third step involves examining what I want and need, what's best for the team and what is in the greater good. Only then, after reflection, can I act from a place of responsibility rather than acceptance and approval.

Acceptance and approval needs trap us into patterns of behaviour that can be destructive to others and ourselves. If I have a susceptibility to these patterns it is important to find support. A good coach or mentor can help.

Building the confidence to lead means that we must strike a balance between being true to ourselves and being responsible to others. When a need to belong overrides our ability to lead, we have important personal work to do.

You've just been promoted to lead your team. Several of your peers - now subordinates - thought they should have got the job. They're angry that you were chosen...

A division of the company you lead is doing poorly. The woman you put in charge is your friend. In your heart you know she has to go, but...

A powerful leader in the company wants you to go into the system and fudge some numbers. No one will find out, he says, and everyone else is on board...

Posted on February 12, 2014 .