You’re tough, right?
After all, leaders need to be tough. Right?
I mean, business is tough. Everyone knows that – in fact it’s tougher than ever. And leading business when times are tough requires – well – toughness. Right?
And because they’re “supposed” to be tough, leaders aren’t supposed to show weakness – softness – right?
If the above is you and what you believe, you’re not alone. I’ve worked with countless leaders who really believe that – like the armadillo – “tough on the outside” is what they have to project.
What these leaders don’t see – or want to admit – is what that facade of toughness is costing them.
What they want to ignore is that they are humans. And humans are imperfect, have fears and loves, create relationships, learn to trust (or not) and can experience an extraordinary range of emotions, from brilliant highs to devastating lows.
Repressing all of your natural humanity takes its toll.
And not only is there a personal cost to subverting your human-ness, openness and courage in the face of uncertainty are the qualities that people follow.
Yes, leaders need to self-regulate. They need to make conscious choices and ensure they are not making emotion-based decisions or role-modelling impulsive behaviour.
But it’s possible to show humanity – in the form of openness and vulnerability – without sacrificing respect. Not only is it possible, it’s a better way.
In the case of our friend the armadillo, the price of relentless toughness is a lack of agility and limited perceptive abilities that result in them too often getting squashed or ambushed.
The combination of strength and softness is where real depth and real courage live.
“All too often our so–called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing compassion.”
Roshi Joan Halifax, from her book, “Being With Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death”
What if leaders developed spine, not armour?
What if compassion was NOT considered “soft?”
What if more business leaders started to believe the massive body of research and thought leadership supporting the idea that being open and vulnerable were demonstrations of character strength – and therefore not only acceptable but DESIRABLE as a leadership trait?
What if leadership got reinvented as a human endeavour?
When considering who you want to be as a leader, I invite you to start with considering who you want to be as a human. Your leadership life will be easier if there’s not much difference between the two.