The Power of the Approval Trap

Exceptional Leaders rewrite the negative scripts that could leave them feeling beaten down and defeated.

Even the people who were fortunate enough to have positive and loving parents or guardians in their lives, who never heard a comment that was misinterpreted by them to mean they were dumb, stupid or incapable, went through puberty. Few were fortunate enough to escape the terror of zits, crooked teeth, demeaning nicknames, wearing the unacceptable outfit, the outdated brand, or the embarrassment of our family. It is simply far too easy to learn that “I’m not okay unless they approve of me.” Of course “they” can be anyone from classmates, teachers, parents, friends, and can grow to include colleagues, bosses, spouses and children.

It is true that approval from others can certainly shape our behavior. To demonstrate this, a professor divided his class in to three groups. Each group was given an assignment to get their rats through the maze as fast as possible. When giving the instructions to the students, he told the first group that their rats had been of really low genetic qualities and wished them luck. The second group was told that their rats were your average run of the mill barn rats. The third group was told that their rats were bred for exceptionally high intelligence. The results of the experiment are as you imagined. Those exceptional rats completed the maze in record time, far better that of the other two groups. It was only after the experiment was complete that the professor confessed to the students that there was no difference in their rats. The only difference was the perception of those conducting the experiment.

I believe something similar holds true for people. It is true that the approval or even the perception or judgment of others, especially leaders, can shape our behavior. There is usually just enough truth to some of these negative messages that come our way that we fall for them and become trapped in them. This kind of negative conditioning is an easy and destructive trap to fall into. However, exceptional leaders do not allow such messages to form the basis of their self-image and keep them a prisoner to their mistakes and failures. They take a more objective look at themselves. Yes, they realize they make mistakes from time to time. They may even experience failure. However, they also have successes and they chose to learn from both. This may be what keeps them both humble as well as optimistic.

Additionally, these Exceptional Leaders realize that the perceptions they hold of others can have an incredible impact on how they see themselves and how they perform. Exceptional leaders view others from their strengths, their potential and their capabilities, often seeing them as even more capable than they see themselves. They challenge them to do beyond what they believe they can. More often than not the people they lead rise to the occasion, often surprising themselves, and even more grateful that an Exceptional Leader believed in them and challenged them to excel.

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