Behind Every Good Leader #5: Identifying Your Underlying Needs

In a previous post, I offered an exercise to help leaders gain awareness of their inner emotional landscapes. When I've led people through this exercise in the past, the following feedback is common:

When you asked us how we were behaving, thinking, and feeling in stressful situations, I was tracking with you. My experience closely matched the examples you gave. But when you asked us what our needs were, I was at a loss. I have no idea what my needs are.

This is not an unusual experience at all. In fact, it's quite normal, especially for those of us who are more avoidant in our attachment style. Just a quick reminder...those who are avoidant tend to disconnect from vulnerable feelings and underlying needs because they've learned that they can't count on others to be there for them.

The catch...If you want to be a more effective leader who is able to more effectively regulate her emotional experience, you need to know what your needs are. Whether or not you are aware of them, your needs provide the foundation of your internal emotional landscape.

If you struggle to identify your needs, here are a few questions* to help you gain clarity on what they might be:

  • What is your biggest source of anxiety or your biggest fear?
  • Is there something about yourself you would prefer people not know? What do you do to keep people from knowing this?
  • Is there a characteristic of yours that somehow limits you in your relationships or your leadership role?
  • How do you usually deal with stress? Is there a reaction to stressful situations that seems to always cause you problems?
  • Looking back at your life, can you recognize a recurrent pattern in your functioning and relationships that doesn't work well for you?

If these questions make you uncomfortable, that's okay. Just remember that we all have needs that have developed over time in our relational contexts.  These needs color everything we do in both our personal and professional lives. The good news is that acknowledging and understanding these needs can help you gain greater mastery of yourself, thus making you a more effective leader.

*Aponte, H. J., & Kissil, K. (2012). "If I can grapple with this I can truly be of use in the therapy room": Using the therapist's own emotional struggles to facilitate effective therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 40, 152-164.

Jaime GoffComment