I was taking a break from writing when Lance Armstrong decided to come (mostly) clean with Oprah earlier this year. Here’s my take on the Lance drama and why so many stars have big blind spots.
I don’t think anyone was surprised Lance had lied for years about his blood doping. Were you? I think most people believe that he told the truth when he did because it was a last-ditch effort to save his brand and keep him out of prison.
Lance has a reputation for being an emotionally high-maintenance (aka insecure) guy. He was an arrogant, self-centered, even mean, teammate. He used performance-enhancers to win cycling racing (and, yes, most in his sport did this as well) and he lied about it. Yet Lance was a hero to a lot of people.
How We Pick Our Heroes
We want to believe good things about our heroes. We’ll do what it takes to allow us to keep watching a great or super-human athlete perform. We like the personal benefit derived from our association with a winning franchise (think Penn State, New Orleans Saints, Rutgers Men’s Basketball).
We unknowingly idolize certain athletes. You can tell you’re doing this when either you don’t see the unfair or inappropriate behavior, or you rationalize it or remain infatuated with high-performers in spite of a misalignment between their core values and yours.
Idolizing or idealizing reflects our inability to recognize our own greatness. We would rather see greatness or potential in others than see it in ourselves. We don’t believe in our own greatness. And neither do our heroes. The Human Performance Institute (run by Jim Loehr) that trained many of the world’s top tennis players and now trains politicians and business leaders, has documented this dynamic. HPI’s research shows 40% of top performers think they are impostors.
This shadow belief of inadequacy drove Lance, Tiger,and many other athletes, politicians and executives. Look closely at these cases and you will find deep insecurity. In spite of being at the top, many high-achievers suffer from a persistent belief that they aren’t good enough or are not worthy of what they have.
How To Shrink Your Blind Spot
Our hero-worshiping can lead to promoting, supporting and following players, coaches and executives that are being driven by demons. We can often become incapable of seeing, or of being in denial of, the existence of the shadow in another because we can’t see it in ourselves.
The antidote for following shadow leaders is simple but not easy. To avoid getting sucked in by such leaders start believing in yourself. This means accepting yourself fully. When you accept your strengths and weaknesses, you will see that we are all a package deal. Don’t stop at accepting just your innate talent. Look at other qualities that make you excel – your ability to push through adversity, your creativity, your ability to solve problems. Then remind yourself that (your talents and traits notwithstanding) your inherent worth is established by your existence alone.
Once we come to the truth of the source of our value we will stop seeking heroes that hold us back and eventually disappoint us.