The Cost of Leadership Invalidation


Leadership is hard work. As Peter Drucker said, it’s not about personality traits or charisma, but about putting in the effort to actually do the work of leadership for the sake of others. Getting the work of leadership done is always taxing. But adding an additional burden in the form of unnecessary noise about our inadequacy makes the task that much harder. This is particularly the case with yin leaders.

What is the impact of the noise in our heads as introverts or ambiverts that suggests that we are unqualified or incapable of leading well? Most of us have heard this inner dialogue far too often. Almost all of us have a degree of doubt in our ability that may actually be a healthy sign of the humility requisite for good leadership. However, self-doubt driven by unhelpful and untrue stereotypes is another story entirely.

Though it’s hard to calculate with precision the cost of invalidation, generally speaking, it can be calculated. Invalidation and the self-doubt that results from it add an additional layer to the process of making effective and timely decisions as a leader. In addition, it takes an emotional toll and affects the overall functioning and well being of those under its force. Let me explain.

Meet Pamela. She’s the COO of a rapidly growing tech company. Though she’s been wildly successful in terms of the things she’s accomplished in her career thus far and for her current company, she carries around inside of her a hidden struggle that has actually reduced both her success and personal happiness. Pamela has two aspects of self that cause her inner dialogue and struggle. She’s a woman in a world that is still dominated by men around her. In addition, she’s an introvert who has leveraged her ability to go deep and develop extensive strategies for company success for the sake of the organization. But she’s still afraid, though she won’t admit it, that introversion is a sort of handicap she needs to conceal. She’s done great despite the noise in her head she frequently has to work through, ignore or work around.

What would the gain be if we could reduce or even eliminate the noise in her head connected to myths about women in leadership or introverts? Assume that the extra brain energy taken up by these unneccesary and damaging cognitive loops is an additional 20 percent (10 percent about being a woman, 10 percent about being an introvert). What would the value be if we could cut that noise even in half? In theory, her performance and well-being could be increased from 80 percent to 90 percent. What is the value of the additional 10 percent functioning that could be created inside Pamela? Pamela’s salary is $250,000 per year. In simple math, the reduction of noise and increase in feeling good about who she is as a leader could increase her productivity by 10 percent, creating an additional value of $25,000 for the company and an increase in her feelings about herself that money can’t buy.

Pamela’s level of invalidation is actually pretty minor. She’s mostly worked through the impact of the culture’s misinformation and misunderstanding of women and introverts. Other leaders, whether you or others in your organization, are likely dealing with higher levels of invalidation that are detrimentally impacting performance.

Yin leaders differ from the stereotype of leadership in the West. They tend to be a little less extroverted, less aggressive, less independent or assertive, less optimistic or charismatic. But they are amazing leaders. They are wise. They make the team safe. They are collaborative. They like working on the details that make the visionary plans come to fruition. Much of the invalidation yin leaders feel is unneccesary. It is based on cultural myths about the nature of introversion, the nature of leadership and how these two are connected. Myths are often a reflection of cultural misunderstandings and untruths. Getting rid of these myths in light of a more accurate understanding of the truth can be revolutionary in the life of a leader. Extrinsically, the cost-benefit of interventions aimed at reducing levels of internal invalidation is clear. This investment in personal development is a no-brainer.

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