Friday, December 03, 2004

Vulnerability

Dean and Jackie are friends of ours studying to be pastors. Dean told us what happened at a weekend meeting of Baptist bigwigs, where they were cleaning the toilets (seriously).

The biggest problem with the way pastoring used to be taught, they were told, was that you were expected to never show weakness. They didn't hear this in a lecture; they heard it from an old man.

Have all the answers, don't ever dare to have a problem. That was the way things used to be. Or is it the way things still are?

I'm pleased to see Dean and Jackie learn that they can't have all the answers, and being a leader makes you more, not less, vulnerable. I'm learning those things myself, without the burden of a pastorate to teach me.

Pastor or managing director, the issues are the same. A recent newsletter from Australian management consultant Deborah May says it well:

"Leaders are fallible, imperfect human beings who do their best - just like every other member of the human race.

People who’ve been promoted into leadership positions are there because they’ve been assessed as having the competence to do the job required. They wouldn’t be there otherwise. But once they’ve been selected, we look for signs of super human transformation, and inevitably are disappointed.

For example, once accepted into partnership, skilled and successful lawyers are expected to suddenly know about business development, marketing, people management, economic theory, organisational behaviour – without ever having been trained in those fields.

And possibly because this is what’s expected of them, they talk as if they DO know all the answers

...

I wonder if unconsciously or otherwise leaders fear that to not know all the answers (even in areas they have not been trained) would be seen as weak?

Leaders must get off their pedestal - the one they’ve created for themselves or that has been built by others’ expectations.

Leaders who have the humility to accept that they don’t know all the answers provide room for the contribution of others, and space for the ideas and expertise of their people. They are more likely to engage the hearts, minds and energy of their people and collectively achieve more than they thought possible."

(Sorry about cutting and pasting the entire article, but there are no online archives available.)

8 Comments:

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

I wonder too, if those who find themselves in leadership positions aren't looking for those kinds of superhero transformations as well? Not all Clark Kents can be Supermen, now can they?

 
At 12:21 AM, Blogger Borscht said...

Bottom line is one of the requirements of leadership is to be able to make 'vulnerability' work for you in the context of the demanding role. To channel it as a potential weakness and convert it staunchly into a powerful force for change.

I recall being like this several times at the gym. When the natural tendency is to feel bad about a particular something in the environment, but then to use the 'down energy' to power the present activity (in this case, working out).

Good leaders, I feel, do a variation on this sort of thing...

It's one thing to feel vulnerable from a human perspective -- and quite another to be an out and out cheat.

I mean, if you don't know, you don't fucking know. I don't like people to tell me they know shit when they really don't -- but the nature of the beast is such that ego normally wins out. Does. Nature of the beast. Ego sucks, but it gets scratched and bugged now and again.

If I'm going to be lead by another -- I want iron will, firmness, and damn -- there better be some mondo consistency there, u-huh -- these traits among several others I'd like to see in muh-man (or wuh-man). (I can list them if you'd like.)

Again, the Count is peeling back another layer...

...of...

L'ognion!

-- Count...von Groovy

You betta' GROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE. Or else!

 
At 12:21 PM, Blogger Simon said...

You got it Count von Pottymouth! ;) But I don't think you've peeled back another layer, you've just made my point more ... er, colourful. But please do list:

>these traits among several others I'd like to see in muh-man (or wuh-man). (I can list them if you'd like.)

...either here or in a separate post.

And another thing about knowing what's the right thing to do all the time. Seriously, answer this: how does someone do that without being either psycho or faking it just a little bit? Answer me that. Cheers.

 
At 12:42 AM, Blogger Borscht said...

(from an earlier, ahem, SY post)

You got it Count von Pottymouth! ;)


AM -- Was it that fucking bad!? ;-)

But I don't think you've peeled back another layer, you've just made my point more ... er, colourful. But please do list:

>these traits among several others I'd like to see in muh-man (or wuh-man). (I can list them if you'd like.)


(begin Groovy's comments)

The List:

1) consistency.
2) tenaciousness.
3) taking "no" for an answer (what do I mean? No insignificant manner indeed) -- the fact that a "no" answer isn't a humiliation nor a justification for ego to emerge -- it's merely another tactic in the arsenal of tactic. Just "up your arsenal."
4) reliability -- I can't stress this enough.
5) being wary and mistrustful. Corporate leadership is built on the (Rockerfeller-esque) foundation that one can't really trust too many persons.
4) taking care of the mind and the body -- for the mind works well, only if body is well-tuned.


...either here or in a separate post.

AM -- Oops.


And another thing about knowing what's the right thing to do all the time. Seriously, answer this: how does someone do that without being either psycho or faking it just a little bit? Answer me that. Cheers.

AM -- The answer? Well, I think it's the courage to make a decision without all of the information. One of the magnificences of being human is the endowment of being able to make a decision in a situation of incomplete information. (We're able to derive a great deal more f/ context than we give ourselves credit for!)

I think being able to shift on the fly is also a vital skillset for a leader.

Being able to bounce back from an erroneous decision is also part of the package.

You're not going to know what's right all the time Simeon -- but when some shit hits the fan, you're not going to allow it floor you.

Does this work?

 
At 8:55 AM, Blogger Simon said...

Great list! I totally agree. Yes, knowing what to do without knowing all the facts is hugely important.

And that's where "Being able to bounce back from an erroneous decision is also part of the package" is also important.

It's easy to have made instinctive decisions that ended up being wrong, and forever after feel disqualified from making leadership decisions. Our litigious culture doesn't help!

I think being able to bounce back from bad decisions is pretty essential ... I think, my onion-peeling friend, you've hit the nail on the head with that one!

About "being wary and mistrustful. Corporate leadership is built on the (Rockerfeller-esque) foundation that one can't really trust too many persons."

Hmmm. I guess so. But I also know you get what you give. If you're too mistrustful, you'll never win the confidence of anyone.

But then the key becomes knowing ... how much is too much (mistrust)?

 
At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's easy to have made instinctive decisions that
ended up being
| wrong, and forever after feel disqualified from
making leadership
| decisions. Our litigious culture doesn't help!

AM -- But it's that sort of consistency, Simon, that
separates the men from the boys. The ones who can
step in like a Muay Thai boxer and take several hits,
waiting, forever waiting, until they're able to step
in and take their right shot -- that's what I mean by
"not being floored." You have to admire the ones who
refuse to take their eyes off the prize. They keep
their eyes open for opportunities -- I think I
described the notion of the "crack in the fortress
walls" idea to you before -- you always have to watch
out for it -- or you'll go slamming headlong into the
brick wall.

|
| I think being able to bounce back from bad
decisions is pretty
| essential ... I think, my onion-peeling friend,
you've hit the nail on
| the head with that one!
|
| About "being wary and mistrustful. Corporate
leadership is built on
| the (Rockerfeller-esque) foundation that one can't
really trust too
| many persons."
|
| Hmmm. I guess so. But I also know you get what you
give. If you're too
| mistrustful, you'll never win the confidence of
anyone.

AM -- Yes. Until you're given a reason not to. This,
I feel, is where the study of history comes into
play. Observe how similar interactions (not
altogether different from the manner in which we do
business and behave today) we handled in different
countries in the past. See what the human reactions
were. Why am I telling you this? Because you can use
it as a signpost for the notion of trust. We're not
any more or less trustful or mistrustful of people
than our forebears. I'm merely parroting, perhaps,
the collective wisdom of the ages here with my
statement about being trustful or not...

|
| But then the key becomes knowing ... how much is
too much (mistrust)?

AM -- It's too much if it stifles opportunity. It's
too burdensome if you're anxious about taking risks
and chances. A healthy amount of risk is good. It's
the foundation for our culture, Simon. It's what
makes living in the West great.

-- Adam Mezei

 
At 8:05 PM, Blogger Simon said...

Could you go into more detail on the "crack in the fortress walls" idea?

 
At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You look at a fortress which bars your entry. But
there is a sleeping sentry at an opening in the gate,
and if you time it right, you can pass him.

Now, if you're a ship approaching this crack in the
wall...you better keep you eye on the gap -- the
"crack," as it were -- otherwise you might smash
headlong into the fortification.

That's what I was attempting so poorly to express
previously.

-- AM

 

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