Charles Pfeffer

Executive Coaching & Leadership Consulting

What stops you from being authentic? (1 in a series of 3)

Not every CEO is an extrovert who gains energy from being around and interacting with people. I have known several who feel awkward and uncomfortable making small talk at company gatherings or in small employee groups. What makes for an effective CEO is not always the charismatic square jawed 6 footer who seems to be able to talk to anyone. Sometimes it is the thoughtful technical introvert who through disciplined persistence has learned the many different parts of the business to rise to the top.

It’s common to experience social anxiety when meeting new people and speaking before large groups – especially if there are perceived differences. CEOs have taught themselves to successfully engage large groups. Having given countless speeches and presentations, they know how to prepare to both deliver the content and to overcome their anxiety. They can convey their ideas with energy and impact. But sometimes they don’t feel comfortable and connected in small, spontaneous and informal settings. Here are some ideas and some questions to explore.

I used to experience anxiety as a recurring worry about people’s opinions of me. A voice in my head would say, “what if they find out I don’t really have anything valuable to offer them?” Despite my nearly 30-year track record, that internal voice sometimes shows up.  Thankfully, many clients have become friends and tell me that my work made a permanent difference. Psychologists call this, “The Imposter Syndrome” and it is quite common. The Imposter Syndrome is a mindset that, unless interrupted, shapes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in ways that block authentic connection. It’s as though I am saying to myself, “I really want to make an authentic connection so I can contribute my best, but what if I can’t? Maybe I’ll just share a part of myself that I think others will accept.”

Over time, I’ve found I can shift my internal monologue and keep these thoughts at bay by focusing on a purpose larger than my fear of rejection. My purpose is to help transformational leaders make the World work for everyone. When I act from this purpose, there is no room to indulge my self doubt.

What about you? What inner monologue are you aware of when confronted by an employee  whose name you may have heard, but now can’t recall? Is there a polite way to escape? Whatever the thoughts running through your mind, they are designed to protect you – not the adult-you, but the child that still resides in your central nervous system as well-worn neural pathways. This default system is there to make sure you survive. Even if you are not under any physical threat, part of your brain does not recognize this, and so engages the fight, flight, freeze, appease mechanism.

Here are some questions to contemplate:

What purpose do care about more than you care about looking good?

What connects this purpose to the mission of your organization? 

In what way would fulfilling your purpose advance this mission? 

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