The False Self Series, Part 4: Harshness

I recently listened to an Emotional Healthy Leader Podcast episode by Pete Scazzero (The September 6 episode, Silencing the Seductive Voice of Your False Self) that greatly impacted me. In the episode, Pete said, “one of the most destructive temptations leaders face is living and leading from the veneer of the false self.” He then listed ten examples of how this can happen. 

These examples made sense to me — and I think they’ll resonate with you too. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll talk about all ten. I am doing this because overcoming the false self is the best way to head into 2023. Leadership is about doing things with and through other people, so leading yourself past your false self is step one to leading effectively.

The False Self Series, Part 4: Harshness

By their nature, leaders move things from point A to point B. Leadership, as I define it in this blog, is the process of doing things with and through other people. Therefore, one potential leadership pitfall is impatience — the frustration we feel when things aren’t moving as quickly as we’d like.  

In this post, I want to talk about the importance of leaders remaining impatient for results while maintaining patience for people. When a leader becomes impatient, they can often lash out, becoming harsh. I argue that this is often a sign they are leading from their false self. Allow me to unpack my thoughts. 

Impatience Leads to Harshness 

The False Self series is about how leaders are tempted, in certain situations, to be someone they are not — their false self — rather than being authentic. In this particular case, when things are moving slowly, a temptation arises for the leader to act swiftly or even aggressively. While a willingness to take action is easily one trait that makes someone worth following, my argument is that what matters most is the type of action you take.  

For instance, when a project is delayed, is the leader asking questions about its delay or taking potshots at mistakes made by the team? Are the questions being asked in a tone that suggests harshness? Or, based on the questions being asked, can one observe any element of the “blame game” being played? 

These questions are important to consider because they uncover the motive of the questioner (in this case, the leader). As I stated above, leaders should be impatient for results because they prioritize action. But the way they go about doing this matters if they want to remain someone worth following. 

The temptation here is to lead from the false self, one that is highly critical and harsh. To be fair, this is how much leadership is portrayed in television and movies. The “boss” demands answers, and often gets them, but at a cost. People follow out of necessity, not out of desire. 

Understand Why It’s Happening, and Fix the Problem

The leader committed to leading from their real self, however, is already open to the criticism of others, not looking approval from others, and willing to admit their own weaknesses. Hence, they can genuinely and authentically ask questions from a place of curiosity. Their goal is twofold: understanding why things are not moving as quickly as possible, and fixing the problem. 

I also want to point out that not addressing an issue is another sign of living from the false self. I am referring here to being “non-confrontational.” Leaders should be confrontational. Leaders should be impatient when things are dragging on and on. The key is to be both confrontational and impatient in ways that are not harsh, demeaning, or damaging to others. When leaders are damaging, it is often because they lead from their false selves, which needs to be justified at all costs. 

Let this point sink in: Harshness towards others is often a sign that something is wrong inside you. For the leader, it is often an unwillingness to hold yourself accountable. Put bluntly, is your poor leadership the root cause of your harshness? 

I can only speak for myself, but my past harshness has often been rooted in exactly this. In that case, I have done a poor job leading myself, and others. 

The gift of leading from your real self is that you can have any “difficult conversation” because you don’t have to (and shouldn’t be) harsh. You can simply have a conversation. This doesn’t mean those conversations will be easy, but it does mean that they’ll be easier and much more productive. 

Leaders are worth following largely because of how they treat others. In this sense, leaders should be impatient for results because they prioritize action. But they also need to be patient with people, prioritize questions over statements, and treat them respectfully in the process.