Someone on your team is praising you. It’s an awkward and uncomfortable thing, but it’s okay, you’re good in these moments.
You smile patiently and wait for them to stop talking. You’re very graceful.
When they finish speaking, you make a joke about how, if they only saw the way you were at home, they’d be saying totally different things, and then caveat it with a “but thank you anyway” to finish it off.
To the untrained eye, it almost looks like you let the acknowledgment in, but you didn’t, because you’re modest and humble and you really know that all of this good work was really because of how your team showed up, etc.
You’ll happily tell anyone that listens it was your team doing all of the good work, provided they continue to acknowledge you first. It’s kind of like a back-alley deal you have going on: People tell you how great you were, you tell them how it’s not really about you, and then everyone gets to feel good.
It all looks fine and good, except that it isn’t. What it is, is obnoxious.
It’s obnoxious because you don’t let anything in. It’s obnoxious because it’s bullshit.
It’s a lot like walking home on a date beside a partner complaining about the cold. You’ve asked them if they would like your jacket twice now, and they insist they don’t while continuing to complain about how cold it is, shivering away like they’re being electrocuted. Why can’t they just own and ask for what they need?
Why can’t you?
Unwilling to stand and be recognized for your gifts, you bat away love and acknowledgment like they’re mosquitoes. You deflect compliments with the utmost efficiency, all the while maintaining the mask of humility it allows you to hide behind.
We’re left with a hollow experience. Our attempts at genuine love have been rebuffed. So weird… Are we supposed to stop loving you then? Are we supposed to try two more times before our gifts will be accepted? Should we just leave them outside the door and trust that you’ll receive them when you’re ready?
That’s the experience that happens directly. Below the surface, there’s a more insidious experience occurring. Humans (yes, even you!) have a fundamental need to be seen and recognized for who we are. However, you’ve created a dynamic where you can’t allow for that. You can’t own your own light, instead, needing to distance yourself from it and use sarcasm, false modesty and deflection to hide behind.
Unable to own who you are, and your need to been seen as that directly, you are also unable to get your need met directly. Instead, it hangs out in your blind spot and finds ways to get met indirectly.
The compliments you give always feel like there’s a string attached. You talk about how often you recognize and acknowledge your team, unable to see the ways in which you taint this acknowledgment by sewing in your own achievements. Your attempts to offer praise feel slimy, in part because it’s never truly selfless. You’re rarely offering praise because you are genuinely, selflessly proud of your team — there’s always an element of you embedded.
It’s okay you can’t see this — it’s your blind spot. It’s also not really about looking for the ways you praise your team, dismantling it and then putting it back together again. A more powerful way to do things would be to start getting responsible for your own needs. To start getting responsible for the genuine desire you have to be seen for who you are and what you do, and to stop pretending it isn’t important to you.
It is important to you, and if you are committed to being a leader, you have an obligation to be responsible for distinguishing and getting those needs met.
A leader who can distinguish their need to be acknowledged and recognized, and then ask for it, is infinitely more magnetic than ones who pretends they don’t need to be seen and then find insidious ways to get seen anyhow.
Get yourself on loudspeaker and start owning what you need.