Over my leadership career and my time working with other leaders, I’ve come to realise that self acceptance is a very important part of being able to lead effectively.
Self acceptance is critical to feeling comfortable in your own skin. Being comfortable with your own personal style, strengths and shortcomings helps you to navigate the workplace more effectively, and feel better while you’re doing it.
However, many leaders struggle to find that peaceful place of self acceptance.
It’s Hard to Find Self Acceptance In Challenging Workplaces
Many workplaces I’ve experienced have significant cultural challenges that place pressure on leaders and teams.
Unrealistic targets, tight deadlines, too many priorities, acceptance of poor performance and behaviour… the list is endless.
In these workplaces, leaders are challenged to succeed even when the conditions are terrible. Upper management will often expect amazing results, “because that’s why we pay them the big bucks”.
Outside of the workplace, we see memes of amazing leaders all over social media. We see stories of success overcoming all odds.
Then we see leadership quotes with a million likes. You know the ones:
“Leaders should hire smart people and let the smart people tell them what to do”
“The culture is shaped by the worst behaviour that leaders are willing to tolerate”
But at the same time, in the mind of the everyday leader are challenging thoughts like:
“But I don’t feel safe challenging bad behaviour in this workplace” or
“I don’t feel comfortable empowering my team, because my boss will fire me if something goes wrong”.
That’s why it’s so important to gain that self acceptance. To feel comfortable knowing that you’re OK, even if the workplace around you is a complete mess.
I’ve coached several leaders who needed a complete rebuild of their confidence. The view they had of themselves was shaped by the bad bosses and the pressures surrounding them, to the point that they thought they were terrible at their jobs and that they were “broken”.
The reality was quite different. These were good leaders, trying to survive in a dysfunctional environment.
They’d had success and performed well before – they just needed to remember that.
Learn More: Why Leaders Need to Build Self Esteem.
How Finding Self Acceptance Will Help Your Leadership
Being able to accept yourself is not always easy. But once you achieve it, you’ll experience several benefits.
Firstly, you’ll accept your own style and learn how to work with it. You will understand your potential weaknesses, so you can start to work on them where you need to.
You’ll also accept your strengths, so you can bring them to the fore more consistently. You’ll be able to work with your team and other stakeholders in ways that enable you to do better work, more often.
You may also feel more resilient. The storm will be raging all around you, but you’ll feel safe inside your secure bunker of self acceptance.
It doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes. The difference is, you stop beating yourself up when you do. You start to learn from failure, rather than using it as a reason to make yourself feel bad.
All of these points help you to be a better role model for the people around you.
Without self acceptance, you’ll second-guess yourself.
You’ll start to believe you are the problem, instead of identifying issues with the environment around you. This will often encourage leaders to try to work harder, instead of understanding their limitations.
The result might be a broken, burnt out leader.
So How Do We Find That Sweet Feeling of Self Acceptance?
When I was younger, I struggled with self esteem issues.
I would believe that I should be like this, or like that, instead of how I was.
I still have an enduring, crystal-clear memory of something that happened to me when I started primary school many years ago. The school had put me straight into year two because my mum had already taught me how to read, so I had skipped over year one.
As a result, I was entering a class full of kids who had already been making friends for a year.
The kids started to pick on me, and I still remember the chant that one of the ringleaders started in the playground.
They started chanting “Benjamin’s gonna cry… Benjamin’s gonna cry…”
And… I did cry!
Interestingly, the ringleader of that group became one of my good friends some time after that.
I look back at that moment now and find it quite funny, but it didn’t feel great at the time. It was one example that I remember setting me back quite a bit in terms of finding that self acceptance.
But that’s enough about me, let’s look at some ways to gain self acceptance, so you can feel more comfortable in your leadership.
1. Gain Self Acceptance By Understanding More About Yourself
Self-awareness is key. If you don’t know your strengths or shortcomings, it’s hard to cater for them or use them effectively.
Knowing your strengths has an obvious benefit: you can use them more often.
Understanding your weaknesses is important too, because you can improve them, or try to reduce the impact they have on your leadership.
We don’t need to obsess about our weaknesses, but if they are going to continue to cause a problem in your role then it’s good to work on them. If they don’t have much impact, then you might not need to worry.
To help raise self-awareness and understand more about your strengths and weaknesses, testing tools can be useful. My two favourite tools are the PRINT® assessment (I can do this one for you) and the Clifton’s Strengths Assessment (you can take this one yourself).
Another way to raise awareness is via feedback.
Feedback is useful when it comes from a respected source, from somebody who will be honest, and who is interested in helping you improve. They also need to work or interact with you often enough to be able to provide reasonable insight.
And remember – self acceptance means accepting your shortcomings and your strengths… not just focusing on your problems!
2. Gain Self Acceptance By Hanging Out With the Right Crowd
I can’t emphasise this point enough.
The people you associate with the most will have a tremendous impact on the way you feel about yourself.
This goes for both inside and outside of work. Ideally, you want to be associating with people who:
- Support what you’re trying to do
- Can provide constructive feedback
- Generally have a positive attitude; and
- Are trying to improve themselves too.
You want to reduce the time you spend with people who:
- Are judgemental
- Criticise you or others often
- Are unsupportive of your goals or aspirations
- Often display a negative attitude; and
- Tend to play the victim.
This can be difficult to achieve, because you may have long-standing relationships with people who fall into the second category. You may need to have some hard conversations to enable you to step away, or at least reduce the time you spend with them.
If you are struggling to find the right people for your circle, you might try joining clubs, groups or finding a coach or mentor who can offset the negative influences you may be experiencing.
When you associate with the right people, they’ll give you a point of reference to better understand whether you need to work on a few things, or whether your environment is simply not setting you up for success.
3. Work On Your Self-Talk
Self-talk refers to your “inner voice”, and how you speak to yourself.
Self-talk can have a major impact on your mindset and your mental health, so it’s an important factor to consider when it comes to self acceptance.
We are obviously hanging out with ourselves all day, every day. If your self-talk is dragging you down, it’s going to become a problem.
The first step is to notice it.
How do you speak to yourself?
Do you call yourself an idiot, for making a mistake? Do you obsess over what you should have done? Or do you give yourself a break and simply think about what to do better next time?
Developing your own positive daily commitments can help you to foster positive, constructive thinking at the start of each day. You can learn more about this right here: How Daily Commitments Can Improve Your Leadership.
Once you notice negative thinking creeping in, you can also start to reframe it, to focus on the positive aspects. There are some ideas on how to do that in this post from Psychology Today.
The good news is, you don’t have to be stuck thinking the same way. Your brain is able to change, thanks to the concept of neuroplasticity.
Once You Accept Yourself, You’ll Feel Unstoppable
Self acceptance doesn’t mean being naive and ignoring your faults. It also doesn’t mean you stop working on yourself to keep improving.
What it does mean is that you spend less time beating yourself up, and more time feeling better about yourself.
You’ll still need to take accountability for your issues and failures, but that doesn’t mean feeling like a bad person.
This will give you the ability to resist the negative influences of your workplace. To feel as if you’re OK, even when there is significant turmoil and turbulence around you.
To give you the confidence to say “I’m not broken, but my workplace just might be”.