You’re in your seat on time. Yesterday someone showed up late and that ended up being a conversation. It was an awkward conversation, but an exciting one, because we don’t usually have these kinds of conversations.
Nevertheless, what you learned from yesterday was that you are absolutely not going to be late. You take a sip of your coffee, arrange your hair, your jacket, and your notebook neatly. You place your pen in an orderly manner on top of the notebook.
Everything is exactly as it should be. You’ve got it all handled and clean and perfect.
We start the day by checking in; seeing where everyone is at and what they’re bringing in.
You share how things feel dandy and you’re excited to be here, and then pass things on down the line to let other people share.
You take a sip of your coffee and feel good. “Look at you, leader!” You say to yourself, acknowledging yourself for having everything handled in spite of all the challenges in your life outside of this room.
No matter what’s going on out there, you can be relied upon to have it all showing up clean and taken care of in here.
Which is what I thank you for first, when I address you.
I love how reliable you are — when the hurricane is upon us, I would look to you to be one of the people that had everything happening in an orderly fashion.
And then I point to how that is also your way of staying safe.
It doesn’t matter if a hurricane is ripping through your life — I already know how you’re going to show up in this room: prim, proper, put together, perfect.
It’s already all figured out. Even when you do vulnerability, it’s done in a way that is figured out and handled.
There’s nothing any of us can really support you with. There’s no breakdowns, no cracks in the façade.
There’s no humanity.
I ask, “Look, it’s great, in that you’re super reliable. I don’t really want to have this conversation with you, because I’m jeopardizing the safety you provide for us up here at the front. But if I don’t call this out, your leadership stays stuck.”
You’re not totally clear on where I’m going yet, but that last part felt nice to hear.
“The thing is, if you show up without any cracks, without any humanity or breakdowns, where does that leave the people your leading? Either they’re left modelling that same thing, unable to expose themselves and create what’s next, or they’re left feeling like utter disasters — the counterpart to your perfection”.
Now you’re mad at me. You’ve done everything in your power to show up properly for us — for the way we asked you to show up on this leadership team — and I’m telling you it’s wrong.
“I’m doing everything you asked! I’m doing this right!” You insist.
“Yes, you are,” I acknowledge, “but you’re here to play a bigger game than doing things right and wrong. You’re here to play the game of developing yourself as a leader.”
“Leadership is a game that exists beyond right and wrong. But if you filter everything through that particular lens, you’re going to hear all of our feedback for you as how you’re wrong, and that’s going to get in the way of what’s next for you. Are you willing to let go of that and allow us to make a difference for you?”
The safety of the right/wrong floor’s been taken out from under you. Being right is the best thing, but if you can’t have that, being wrong is the next safest place to be. At least when you’re wrong, you know what not to do, and can take a step forward from there.
What I’m giving you is… nothing. Just falling, without a ground to land on.
Not really sure where to go next, you glumly nod your head. “Sure… I mean… I don’t really know where I even go from here?”
“Ooh, I love it,” I share, honestly, “bring us more of that energy. That’s where your next edge in leadership lies — not knowing, and taking a step anyway”.
This is leadership.
It’s being willing to trust that whatever you currently rely on is not what’s next. It’s outside of the right way to lead, and it’s also outside of the wrong way to lead.
It’s being willing to let people make a difference for you, instead of you having it figured out.