When I ask prospective leaders why they are working towards a role with so much responsibility, they often address a “call to duty” or a “desire to make a difference.” They rarely mention the one item that many (if not most) leaders are actually trying to achieve – acceptance. In an interview with Brett Morgen, producer of the HBO documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Brett was asked what he felt Kurt’s intentions were in chasing fame.
Kurt was really after acceptance. He sought it out initially through family, and then through the band… I think he was ambitious and he also sought acceptance through fame, but he didn’t know what that meant. The bottom line is, if you don’t feel good about yourself, having the whole world tell you you’re beautiful and you’re amazing, doesn’t really make you feel better. In fact, it makes you feel worse.
If you seek leadership to satiate your emotional emptiness, look elsewhere. Gaining power exacerbates what you already think about yourself. If you are confident, you will feel more confident. If you doubt yourself, leadership will give you much more to doubt. And, if you lack acceptance like Kurt, it will make you feel even less accepted.
Don’t delude yourself with the misapprehension that one more promotion will make all your problems go away. It won’t, it can’t. Placing “Vice President” in front of your name does not change the fact that you are still you. Battle you inner demons before taking on a position of authority. Once you do, your ascent to leadership glory will be all the more fulfilling.