The Poisonous Apple in Leadership

Let’s journey back to simpler times: you’re six years old, watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Fairytale time. Everything was much clearer back then: black and white. Good and evil. Heroes and villains. Pretty and ugly. Right and wrong.

Now zoom in on those ‘villains’ — they begin to look distressingly familiar… don’t they? Watch the Evil Queen — as the most powerful woman in the kingdom — with untold influence, drive, and ambition.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the ­­fairest of them all?

If you remember, the Evil Queen chose to live and lead from insecurities.  They ruled her life.  She gave in to the poisonous voices inside her head (literally). They ran – and ultimately destroyed – everything. And why?  She was afraid.

Sound familiar?

Researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown, sums it up perfectly: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy?

As leaders we are sickening ourselves with the same poison: Fear and Shame. 

How? By cloaking and hiding our most powerful, authentic leadership selves in conformity, dullness, shadow — or the most powerful of them all: mediocrity.

Take a look in the Mirror

That “poisonous apple” in the story is External Power… aka faux power. A senior level job title, a certain dollar amount in our bank accounts, a fancy sports car, that house in the swankiest of burbs, injecting our bodies, faces – to create and preserve beauty… perfection.

Circle back to the Evil Queen – what did we learn? 

External power cannot fill internal gaps.

No matter how hard the Evil Queen threw around her external power, she still saw the same thing when she looked in the mirror. Not good enough.

Cutting out the Poison

The awakening begins when we stop feeding off the external poison. When we see that our “performance, perfected self” (developed to please the outside world) no longer serves us and who we’re committed to being in our work.  That the work required to be perfect, right, safe is too exhausting, too frustrating — and not in integrity with who we are. This shift requires a new kind of practice in leadership — a mindful one. And as leaders, our work begins within ourselves.

Nervous? Then we’re getting somewhere.

No one said leadership would be easy. Recently an executive client shared, “Some days, it’s easier to put on the mask and perform than it is to do the work of discovering my own leadership voice and style.” Do you think the Evil Queen ever had the cojones to ask herself why she needed to be the fairest of them all? We see what happened to her. This work is not for the faint of heart — but it’s the difference between poisoning yourself and your organization slowly… and doing work with integrity, authenticity, and power.

Internal Work = Big Things

Start with the simple practice of noticing. Notice when you put on your mask in the morning. Or when you shield yourself with your defense mechanism when threats or stress show up. Notice the exhaustion of making things look perfect, smooth, aligned, no mess or mistakes.

Notice when you withhold your thoughts. Your brilliance. Your intuition. Noticing is the first (and very powerful) step toward full expression as leader – and human being.

What could the Evil Queen have been if she looked in the mirror and stated (not asked):

Heck, who could she have been if she stopped wasting time looking for the mirror’s approval – and started doing the real work? Running her kingdom. Building her empire. Standing for the respect, power, and authenticity that she deserved. Being badass and chucking her shame, fear and self-doubt behind the castle.

We’d been watching a very different movie, right?

As a leader… growth, possibility, opportunity begin and end with you.

What is the mirror telling you?