Who are you? Less straightforward than you think and critical for success

Missing the Swans

In a recent leadership discussion regarding untapped potential, I was reminded of Susan Boyle’s first performance on Britain’s Got Talent. We’ve all seen it, the video clip in which her remarkable performance is preceded by looks of derision from the panel and the audience. It’s an easy message to understand: never judge a book by its cover. Most of us can recall times when we have done exactly that and then noticed when it is too late that we have overlooked somebody’s ability to help or to make a difference. We have seen an ugly duckling and missed the beautiful swan.

Dramatic examples like Susan Boyle remind us to pay more attention to differences and specific skill sets. We see the lesson and act, taking a more logical and discerning approach to making the most of talent within our teams.

Hanging on to our own Ugly Ducklings

But what happens when we attempt to apply the same principles to ourselves? There shouldn’t be any difference in approach but, curiously, often there is. On the whole we tend to look at ourselves and undervalue what we see. We easily distort what is before our eyes and see it through an entirely different lens.

The truth, as we see it, can be rooted in the past and in what we have accepted as right from those who held authority over us, or from what our culture or the media encourages us to believe. For much of my adult life, for example,  I believed I had no artistic abilities based on what I heard, at the age of five, my teacher tell my mother. I doubt I’ll ever set the world alight with my drawing, but I can actually produce something recognizable at least.

The problem is that our subconscious minds cannot tell the difference between what is real, and what is vividly imagined, and continuously re-imagined. More than that, something called the Creative Subconscious, in order to avoid chaos and maintain equilibrium, acts to make sure that we act the way we believe we are. In effect, our subconscious mind cannot cope with two different images of ourselves and so sticks to what is most strongly present or imagined.

Somebody else telling us not to judge our own book by its cover will not ordinarily be enough to see what untapped talent we are hiding, or indeed what talent is already in evidence, but which we are not acknowledging or owning. The good news is that there are a number of techniques like visualization and affirmation to help your subconscious to see a better and more useful version of the truth, possibly a whole other blog post.


You might also want to look at reframing. What follows will perhaps sound too simple, but the degree to which even very senior people consistently under value their contributions based on seeing deficits rather than assets continues to surprise me.

For example, how keen would you be to work with a colleague who could a easily see new solutions to problems and spot trends and patterns not obvious to others, b has consistently high energy levels , and c is good at finding shortcuts?

Most people I find are enthusiastic about the prospect.

So why is it then that, before I knew about the benefits of being ADHD-wired, that I believed myself to be in possession of  a quirky ideas that were of no use to anyone else, b frantic, and c lazy?

It is all about the dominant view I had of myself, and which my subconscious mind had little interest in changing. I am essentially the same person, but now I see myself differently, and have, if you like a different script to follow, I own my unique combination of traits more confidently, and the world sees me differently. I see myself more often as a beautiful swan, not more beautiful than the other swans, just differently beautiful.

What about you?

  • What beliefs might you be holding about yourself that are in fact not true?
  • How might it feel to see yourself differently?
  • Who can help you see yourself differently, and perhaps more truthfully?


Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams on influence and authenticity.

© Move Ahead Global 2017

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