Leading from the inside out, requires us to bring our story into the open and invite others to do the same. It allows us to embrace new situations with a keen awareness of our own shortcomings and limitations. To reveal ourselves as human. To see all that is possible.
Most of us are bound to patterns of authority, control and self-preservation that cause us to view situations not as they are but as we want or need them to be to serve these ends. We posture and position ourselves to be seen as competent or even infallible. We want people to respect our position more than we want to uncover the truth. We seek our own version of reality. This leads to conflict, blame, avoidance, alienation, procrastination and a myriad of other outcomes that do not serve to move the organization, or the leader, toward the common goal.
Some may view openness, or vulnerability as a position of weakness; one where we give others an edge that might be used against us. The paradox is that being open actually puts us in the strongest position possible; the position of greatest potential. Consider the martial artist at rest, observing, open, positioned to respond quickly and appropriately to any action presented. Open to reality, not flailing at imaginary attackers. When you are open you are free to see things as they really are and to respond quickly and appropriately without the baggage of hidden agendas and ego trips.
· Leaders who are open listen deeply, observing the spoken and unspoken communication.
· Leaders who are open search for the truth, even when it isn’t safe or flattering.
· Leaders who are open seek to understand reality before they act.
· Leaders who are open are humble and flexible in their approach.
· Leaders who are open accept criticism and failure as paths to learning.
· Leaders who are open are willing to express their humanity.
· Leaders who are open invite others to know them.
Below is a story from the journal of Lieutenant Samuel Shaw in which the power of being open is expressed in great simplicity and with historical significance. During this period of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was at the point of mutiny after Congress had failed to provide needed payments and supplies. George Washington stepped to the front of the room to address his hostile officers, prepared to deliver the news that Congress had yet to meet their demands. This was a highly charged and very critical moment in the history of our country. Washington was not known as a great orator, and having stumbled through the opening paragraph of the letter from Congress, observed that the officers were in no better spirits. Then something amazing happened. An inside out moment…
“One circumstance in reading this letter must not be omitted. His Excellency, after reading the first paragraph, made a short pause, took out his spectacles, and begged the indulgence of his audience while he put them on, observing at the same time, that he had grown gray in their service, and now found himself growing blind. There was something so natural, so unaffected, in this appeal, as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory; it forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye. The General, having finished, took leave of the assembly, and the business of the day was conducted in the manner which is related in the account of the proceedings. I cannot dismiss this subject without observing, that it is happy for America that she has a patriot army^ and equally so that a Washington is its leader. I rejoice in the opportunities I have had of seeing this great man in a variety of situations ; — calm and intrepid where the battle raged, patient and persevering under the pressure of misfortune, moderate and possessing himself in the full career of victory. Great as these qualifications deservedly render him, he never appeared to me more truly so, than at the assembly we have been speaking of. On other occasions he has been supported by the exertions of an army and the countenance of his friend; but in this he stood single and alone. There was no saying where the passions of an army, which were not a little inflamed, might lead; but it was generally allowed that longer forbearance was dangerous, and moderation had ceased to be a virtue. Under these circumstances he appeared, not at the head of his troops, but as it were in opposition to the ; and for a dreadful moment the interests of the army and its General seemed to be in competition ! He spoke, — every doubt was dispelled, and the tide of patriotism rolled again in its wonted course. Illustrious man! what he says of the army may with equal justice be applied to his own character. “ From The journals of Major Samuel Shaw : the first American consul at Canton : with a life of the author.
Nothing Washington said in the reading of the letter, no appeal to patriotism or courage saved the army that day. The turning point was a moment of vulnerability; a moment that touched the hearts of these men and opened them to a new perspective on who they were and the mission they were serving. They were able to see a new possibility for their reality.
What experiences have you had with being open in your leadership? What are the benefits of being open? How do leaders inspire others to be open? Please share your thoughts and stories.