I have discovered that running a company is like doing a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle in zero gravity.
If you are lucky, you can glimpse the top of the puzzle box to see the completed picture before it floats out of view forever. And then, once you lay out all of the pieces, not only is it not obvious how they fit together, but the damn things float away … just out of reach and then out of sight.
As the head of a company trying to fit together 500 floating-away pieces, I have adopted a new motto:
The path to strength is vulnerability.
“What? This makes no sense,” you say. “Leaders are strong, fearless and bold. They make big-deal decisions, so they must be all-knowing and head-strong. To be a leader is to have the answers and those answers are always right.”
I have worked with executives in start-ups, Fortune 400 companies, and everything in between. And I’ve learned that the leaders who are in touch with their humanity, their emotions, values and drivers, succeed in winning the minds and the hearts of their employees. They show up every day as who they are, not who they are supposed to be. These are the leaders who build collaborative cultures, who influence teams to connect, who are transparent in their communication, who create space for risk and reward, and whose companies produce results.
Here’s the hard part. Being in touch with your humanity doesn’t always feel good.More times than not, it feels incredibly vulnerable.
Learning from two wise women, Brené Brown (https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o) and Pema Chodron (http://pemachodronfoundation.org/), here is what I have come to understand about vulnerability and leadership.
•Letting go of who you think you should be as a leader and actually being who you are is a powerful act. It also makes you feel very vulnerable.
•None of us are perfect. The courage to accept that you are not a perfect leader requires you to be vulnerable.
•So does living with uncertainty and not desperately trying to control what you cannot.
•Listening to your team without knowing the answers ahead of time engenders contribution and collaboration. It is also an incredibly uncomfortable thing to do.
•A powerful leader must surround themselves with trusted employees and advisers who will not bullshit them. It’s the only way to know if your words and actions are on target.
You have to hear these hard truths without defending and then you must do something about what you hear. In other words, you may have to change. Opening yourself up like this feels very vulnerable. However, the clarity that is gained is priceless.
•Making hard decisions, having difficult conversations, making people angry, giving bad news are all part of the job … and none of them feel good. You know what else is the job? Staying with that discomfort and not running away.
•It is important as a leader, sometimes, to say I’m sorry, I was wrong. Our workplaces would be easier places to be if those words were used more often. To say them requires the courage to be vulnerable.
•There is a wise Buddhist phrase: Don’t just do something…sit there. Don’t be reactive, don’t lash out, and don’t make quick, thoughtless decisions. Not an easy thing to do when you are the one in the hot seat.
Being the one in charge brings an enormous amount of discomfort, something rarely written about in the thousands of leadership books.
I say it is important to have the conversation about this human side of leadership.
To do so is not weak. It is wise, strong and courageous.
About the Author: Gifford Booth, co-founder and CEO at The TAI Group, has spent the past 30 years guiding business leaders in leadership and personal effectiveness, focusing on changing culture and creating effective teams. Visit The TAI Group, like us on Facebook, and follow along on Twitter @TheTAIGroup.