How to stop letting emotional scars limit your leadership success

Did you know that making meaning out of challenges is one of the hallmark signs of leadership success?

Especially when you make meaning out of childhood experiences that left physical and/or emotional scars so they don’t negatively impact how you show up as a leader today.

At 12 years old, Princess Eugenie had surgery to correct a curvature of her spine called Scoliosis. Today she openly talks about how scared she was about having the surgery at the time and now celebrates the scar on her back left from the surgery.

So much so, that in 2018, she specifically wanted her wedding gown designed with a low back to show the scar. Going one step further, in order for her scar to be seen, she intentionally didn’t wear a veil.

Princess Eugenie said “Scars tell a story about your past on your future” and showing them is a way of “getting rid of a taboo.”

Do you have a scar you’ve ashamed of?

Perhaps you’re embarrassed about and wear certain clothing to cover a physical scar.

But scars aren’t just physical, they can also be from emotional wounds that happened growing up.

That was the case of several of the leaders in my book How Did My Family Get In My Office?! who talk about events from their upbringing that left emotional scars.

The kind of scars these leaders talk about in the book aren’t visible until they’re triggered, like when things don’t go as planned or during conflict in the workplace.

Then the scars show up in explosive anger, people-pleasing, inappropriate humor, and avoiding difficult conversations.

It’s important to recognize that these scars can hold us back from achieving our full potential as leaders. Working through them is a crucial step towards success. 

Turning Scars into Strengths

Instead of saying “This is how I am” or blaming their past, the book leaders took action by gaining self-awareness about what was driving their behavior, including understanding how events from their upbringing left emotional scars that were influencing how they showed up as leaders in the workplace.

By looking back at their upbringing, the intent wasn’t to blame rather to understand how events growing up impacted the way they handle conflict today as a leader. 

Until you’re aware of what’s driving your reaction, you’re not going to be able to change behavior that’s getting in your way of being your best as a leader.

When Princess Eugenie walked down the wedding isle, her scoliosis scar was healed. While visible, the scar no longer had the emotional charge it had at age 12.

Scars are evidence that wounds can heal. That wounds don’t last forever. That healing is possible.”

–    Lecrae Moore, Rapper, Music Producer, and Author

Addressing your scars is one of the most important things you can do to be a healthy and influential leader. 

Answer the below questions in a journal or with a leadership coach to get started in gaining self-awareness and healing scars that are driving your negative reactions during conflict.

  1. In reference to Princess Eugenie, what scars do you have that tell a story about your past? That by showing/acknowledging them you could rid yourself of a taboo?
  1. When you’re triggered emotionally and feel your fight/flight/freeze response about to take over, become curious. Pause and ask yourself “What’s this about? What about this situation is bothering me? What’s causing this reaction?”
  1. What meaning can you make of challenges in your life that will make you a more self-aware and emotionally healthy leader?

Remember, scars can be healed and transformed into strengths so they no longer have the same power to dominate your reaction and behavior.

Stop letting your scars limit your leadership success,


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.

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