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Why needing recognition is a clear sign of emotional immaturity

Recognition is a strategy that we all use to feel competent - to feel good enough.

There is nothing wrong with giving a pat on the back, but as a society we have come to rely upon it to prop up our self-esteem. If we need recognition from others to feel good and we perceive that we don't get it, we get frustrated. This frustration can then lead to negative emotion, rebellion and, in some cases, ego driven childishness.

A powerful, authentic leader does not need recognition to feel good. They know that their skills, approaches and leadership are making a difference. They get on with the job, leaving self-consciousness behind, negating the need for others to confirm how great they are.

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Sadly most of our leaders are not driven by their own expressions of humility but rather by their egos. The pursuit of financial reward and career status to demonstrate individual success is a self-assurance strategy. Just as control freaks write lists upon lists and have the complete inability to delegate, egotistical leaders begin to arrogantly believe that they deserve recognition and a clear and successful career path.

What most do not consciously realise is that recognition is out of our individual control and is more about the individual needing it than the fundamental practice of recognition in its own right.

The need for recognition is systematic in our business culture. It is driven by the use of competency based assessment and the tendency to pigeon-hole personalities, while pointing out development needs and weaknesses.

Recognition is now seen as a necessity in our people strategy and yet the need for it not only creates a population of people who feel vulnerable and insecure, it also creates rebellion and a "them and us" situation when reward schemes are set in place to highlight a minority.

Business leaders and managers today often become the person that they believe others need to see in order to be viewed as competent and succeeding.

Throw in a lack of self-awareness and you have a combustible mix of negative directional style, ego, control and disengagement. Managers have come to need recognition as a crutch. Internally it becomes all about us; what we need and what we aren't getting. We either acutely feel the lack of self-esteem, sulk or push.

So what is the answer? Businesses and HR leaders need to reduce the use of negative psychometrics and covering up the cracks with competency based training and development and focus on creating an environment and culture where their people stop worrying about what others think of them and how they are coming across.

Instead, they must breed self-sustaining, grounded confidence - in other words, motivated people who just get on with delivering.

This concept might be best understood through a simple example. If you give your child recognition every time they want you to tell them how well they have done they will come to rely upon it. They will look outside of themselves for confidence. Ask them to highlight to you what they believe went well and their confidence and competency will grow.

It encourages them to focus on the positive. This, in turn will build a sustainable cycle of consciousness that will breed resilience. Conversely, if an individual needs recognition, they lack self-esteem and they will have a tendency to use recognition as a strategy to lift self-belief.

It is not just our leaders who have fallen for this supposedly primal need for recognition. There is not a single person I have ever met that does not worry about what others think of them; that does not believe that they are not as confident as others think they are. It is shocking, the lack of self-esteem that exists in our manufacturing and service industries.

Western humanity has, over the last 50 years, bred a civilisation that fundamentally relies upon others to feel good enough. We fill our gap in confidence with clothes, holidays, gadgets, alcohol, relationships and yes, recognition - looking to them to make us happy.

It is time to turn around the way that we develop our people so that they don't need to rely on recognition. At the same time what will occur is that the majority of our competency requirements will also be met by eliminating the frustration and negative management styles that result from the need for recognition. It is time to change the way that the world develops people.

Elizabeth Villani is MD of training and development company Courageous Success