I don’t want to alarm you, but if you’re in a leadership role you are at high risk for a serious ailment—leader-itis.
I consulted the psychologists’ “bible”—the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)—and did not find any listing for “leader-itis.” I guess that’s not a big surprise given that I made up the term. But I assure you, leader-itis is real.
In my role as an executive coach and healer, I have noticed a range of related complaints:
I feel like I’m an imposter—like people think I’m smarter and more competent than I am—that somehow I’ve fooled everyone.
I feel an enormous weight of responsibility that makes it hard to relax.
I feel like I’m juggling too many balls and worry that I’ll start dropping them.
I feel isolated in my role because there are things I can’t talk to my staff about and have to keep to myself.
You might be surprised at how many leaders are plagued by these kinds of thoughts and feelings, including some revered national figures universally seen as being very powerful.
If any of these thoughts sound familiar to you, you might have a case of leader-itis. I have devised a simple self-diagnostic test that you may want to take before completing this article.
What is Leader-itis?
Leader-itis is characterized by feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and anxiety. But the symptoms in and of themselves are not the problem.
Leader-itis is having these completely normal emotions but thinking there’s something wrong with you for having them. Leader-itis is feeling like you have to pretend not to wrestle with insecurity, isolation and overwhelm. Leader-itis is the stress of trying to deny your humanity while coping with the weighty responsibilities and challenges of leadership.
Is there a cure for Leader-itis?
Yes! The good news is that leader-itis is treatable, and fortunately, the remedies are completely safe and actually ultimately wholesome and joyful. Treatment for leader-itis not only benefits the leader, but the cause and the people they lead. Here are some basic remedies, which are further detailed in the tool, Are You Suffering from Leader-itis?:
Remedy #1 Have compassion for yourself
That nagging inner judge who’s on your case for never doing it well enough is a major part of the problem.
Remedy #2 Get Connected
Yes, it can be “lonely at the top,” but there are crucial ways to break out of the isolation many leaders experience.
Remedy #3 Care for your body
Leader-itis often leads to poor habits of self-care, which in turn can exacerbate symptoms of leader-itis.
Remedy #4 Invest in your own development
Renew and grow yourself through training, reading, coaching, ongoing education, self-refection and lifelong learning.
Remedy #5 Connect to the source
One of the most potent cures for leader-itis is an active connection to your deeper sense of purpose, to a cause or community that you serve, or however you might experience spirit or the Creator.
Remedy #6 Get a Life
Great leadership has little to do with working crazy hours. But making more time for family, friends, and the activities that really nourish your heart and spirit will recharge you and provide valuable perspective to help heal leader-itis.
Left untreated, leader-itis tends to get worse. Sufferers from leader-itis often act in ways that produce more and greater symptoms. Leader-itis is also contagious — your moods and behavior impact everyone who works with you.
Do you have a case of leader-itis? What are your symptoms, and what helps you feel better?