We live in an age where leaders are exposed to a near-constant barrage of criticism. The media thrives on scandal and focuses its attention on what grabs the audience share rather than on what is truly worth our attention. Leaders are visible and therefore vulnerable to being attacked. Social media gives people ample opportunity to generate negative commentary. Opinion makers love controversy and will find leaders to undermine at every turn. As we watch leaders being criticized on a regular basis, it can be easy for most of us to conflate leadership with potential exposure to shame and humiliation.
The great lie of our culture is that we are not good enough. Leaders, like everyone else, are susceptible to feeling inadequate because of the culture-wide conditioning that we somehow do not measure up to others. If I do not conform to society’s religious or sexual norms, there is something wrong with me. If I don’t make as much money as “they” do, I am less than they are. If I make more money than they do, then there is something better about me. Perhaps making more money will protect me from feelings of inadequacy.
There are taboo subjects that generate shame, confusion, and feelings of less-than. The main topics that many of my generation were told to keep private include money, sex, politics, and religion. Yet we live in a world in which money, sex, politics, and religion are central elements of our lives. To not talk about these issues with others is to deny human nature.
The most atrocious assaults that we humans make against each other come from distress patterns related to one or more of these taboo topics. The shame surrounding these topics creates toxicity within us that can compel us to shy away from leadership.
In sharing views on the taboo subjects of sex, money, religion, and politics, we open ourselves to attacks from others. The more visible we are, the more exposed we can feel. If you look like you are doing really well, people who don’t feel successful might turn their feelings of jealousy into weapons. Unconsciously, we don’t want to raise our heads above the crowd just to have it chopped off.
As a leader, I find myself shying away from telling people I am a member of a new-thought spiritual center. “Is that even a church?” one person asked me. Not really. It’s a center where people study and practice a spiritual pathway together, in community. We draw from the ancient wisdom that informs all of the great traditions of spiritual disciplines.
Many of my peers have had brutal experiences in religious upbringings that used fear and guilt to manipulate them. And yet, being from a traditional church in which so many of the congregants don’t embrace the spiritual pathway of the church is somehow more acceptable than being a member of a congregation that embraces diversity, dismantles shame, and explores the full potential of what it means to be a human without trying to control anyone in the process.
Because of my position as a national nonprofit leader with donors, volunteers, and those we serve being of different political affiliations, I also shy away from owning and sharing my political preferences. I was taught that you don’t talk about politics in public. But why? Politics affects what happens to the environment, the economy, the legal system, and almost every other important aspect of life. If I say I am affiliated with this party or that party, I invite attacks—more so now than at any other time in my life.
The time has come for us all to get honest, to openly discuss the important issues of the day, and to allow leaders to be human. This shift is essential to support our most dynamic leaders who are creating a world that works for everyone.
From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller
To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.