Running your own business, or a team, can feel lonely at times. It can also be the perfect position to get stuck in a draining role: playing the hero. This blog is about the difference between being a leader and playing the hero, and why it's so important to be able to tell the difference.
Being a leader can feel lonely at times.
Even if you have a ton of people around you. Because you are the one who is responsible. The one who makes the final decisions. Who needs to have a vision of where you are going with the company or the team. And the one who needs to tell people when their work is inadequate, or their performance on the team is insufficient.
These feelings of loneliness are completely natural. And as women, we are more vulnerable to them, because we are wired to operate in groups.
It's an evolutionary thing: the men went out to hunt, so for them it paid off to stand out. If they were the one to kill the bizon, they would be celebrated because they had secured food and thus survival for the tribe. For women, it was the other way around. Their job was to take care of the children en do the foraging. So watching out for each other and sticking together was their way to thrive. Part of our brain is still exactly the same as it was in the times when we lived as hunters and gatherers.
But these feelings of loneliness can trigger old patterns.
No matter how happy your childhood was, everyone has experienced moments when they didn't feel seen and heard the way they needed to be. Perhaps you come from a big family, and your siblings were your rivals for your parents' attention. Or perhaps you had a parent that was at times unavailable, emotionally or physically. And maybe you overcome far worse adversity.
Those childhood feelings are still stored inside of us to some extent. No matter how much therapy or coaching you had and how mindful you are, they are there. It helps to think of them as your inner children. (A model used in therapies and coaching like schema focused therapy and transactional analysis.)
When triggered, sometimes we respond with old survival mechanisms.
And playing the hero is one of those survival mechanisms. At first glance, that role doesn't seem so bad. Hero's are very capable, they can take care of themselves and others and they fly in to save the day! It can also be quite tempting to play one because hero's are not vulnerable. And being vulnerable signals danger to the more primitive part of our brain.
However, if you are convinced that you can only rely on yourself, that no one gets you or the burden that is on your shoulders, you are the co-creator of a draining, sometimes even toxic environment. (a phenomenon first described by Stephen Karpman)
You see, by playing the hero, you force others in a dependent, or even a victim role. Instead of seeing your team or family members as people who have unique strengths to bring to the table, often supplemental to your own, you pretend you don't need them. And that they (and the situation) do need you. And the longer everyone is in this type of situation, the more damaging it gets.
So think about it for a moment.
I know you are not consciously creating a toxic situation, but you may be seduced into playing the hero role from time to time. Do you recognize the following thoughts?
"Instead of delegating a task and having to take all this time to explain what I need, how it needs to be done and then supervise their work, I'd rather just do it myself. Saves me time and energy. But how I wish I had someone who could take over some of my workload!"
"My partner just doesn't see what needs to be done around the house. Or if he does see, he doesn't care about it like I do. If I want things done, I need to do them myself. That makes me so tired and frustrated at times!"
"I would love to give some of my work to my team members. But my clients insist on speaking to me. I can't risk loosing them by not meeting their needs."
While these thoughts might seem harmless, even matter of fact to you, they are examples of the thoughts of a hero.
Many of us recognize one of these situations. If not all of them.
And doing the work to shift from hero to leader can be very rewarding, if you suspect there might be some hero behavior going on in your own work and life. The first step is in recognizing what you are doing. Then, it's important not to beat yourself up over it. When we are stressed, we become more vulnerable to sabotaging behaviour. And as soon as we recognize that, we get to do something about it and make everything flow again.
So good luck taking back your leadership role.
And let me know if this raises any questions or if you would like to talk about how this could work in your business and life!