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‘The power of belonging – discovering the confidence to lead with vulnerability’ – an extract

March 12 2019


This is an extract from the newly published book ‘The Power of Belonging, Discovering the Confidence to Lead with Vulnerability’ by Will van der Hart and Rob Waller. Taken from Chapter 1 of the book it reflects on the concept of home and authentic belonging and how this lays the foundations for successful leadership.

Starting from home

The best place to begin a journey to belonging is from the concept of ‘home’. Defined as a place ‘where one lives’, home gives us the strongest impression of a place of authenticity, confidence, and freedom. It is a concept that we can all relate to even when our experiences of its reality are vastly different. To say, ‘I feel at home here’, is to express the greatest sense of security to lead. But what is ‘home’ to you—and how can you experience it within your leadership?

Psychotherapist and theologian Kent Hoffman describes a Circle of Security, where ‘home’ has two functions, depending upon our needs. Firstly, it is a ‘secure base’ from which we can adventure into life. Secondly, it is a ‘safe haven’ to which we can return from the challenges of life. Without an image of home that can provide this sending and receiving, our leadership must stem from what we are currently doing. We place ourselves on our own pedestal and carve out a place in the world through our competence (or lack thereof). And we long for home.

In the absence of home … fake it

The ‘fake it to make it’ cultural motto has grown up over recent years. It suggests that if you can pretend that you feel validated in what you are doing for long enough, you will eventually be validated and feel secure. But far more than a statement of strategy, this is often an exercise in confession. Our world is full of people who are faking their sense of belonging in the vain hope that when (or if) they ‘make it’, they will find validation. We feel anything but ‘at home’ but believe that if we pretend we do for long enough, the feeling will somehow suddenly show up.

Central to this book is the principle that authentic belonging makes for successful leadership. One example is found in outstanding sportspeople. Even in disciplines that appear to depend entirely on the skills of one individual, such as snooker or motor racing, winners will often point to their team as the reason for their success. In a post-race interview, Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton said, ‘I couldn’t have done it without my team … This team is just remarkable and what we have achieved together is so special … These guys also did a great job.’ Whether a tennis player or a pastor, business leader or a parent, a leader who truly believes that they belong finds a way to reach their fullest potential.

Many of the leaders who struggle with insecurity today started out by faking it. Initially their faux confidence seemed to work but finding success in the eyes of those around them didn’t make them feel more qualified; it just made them feel more fake! Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, said, ‘What was a normal goal for the young … becomes a neurotic hindrance to the old.’ In other words, people do whatever they can to climb up the career ladder in their younger years; the real struggle comes when they reach the top and realise that it’s leaning against the wrong wall!

Feeding the hunger for home

For many people, especially those in leadership, success appears to offer a form of ‘home’. People around us, and on the internet, react with approval to the achievements we present to them. Unfortunately, this model relies on our ability to replicate these success stories. It is called a news ‘feed’ because it gives rise to suppliers and consumers. We ‘feed in’ our news, and our reward is that our hunger for belonging is satiated for a while.

In leadership, the standards for your belonging can feel even more rigorous and your vision of home can become hostile and dependent upon that latest performance. It is for this reason that capturing a better vision of ‘home’ and a sense of belonging is so fundamental to establishing authentic leadership. If you don’t know where you are coming from (sending) and what you are going to (receiving), there isn’t much of a chance that you are going to get there or feel secure along the way.

The journey to belonging requires the courage to recapture a vision for our leadership where we ‘feel at home’, where we can be real and experience the support, acceptance, and compassion of those around us. The greatest mistake we can make on this journey is to assume that belonging is a passive or coincidental reality.

The theology of radical belonging is the discipline of knowing that you belong to God and therefore you belong in His world. The calling to love your neighbour is second only to loving God Himself.

‘The Power of Belonging, Discovering the Confidence to Lead with Vulnerability’ is published by David C Cook.

Read the whole of chapter 1

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