We are revisiting leadership this week. This is one of a series of 3.
We praise people because of their ‘clarity of mind’. We say, ‘she is a good manager, she knows what she wants, and we know what she wants’. We appreciate, welcome and, perhaps, even edify certainty. ‘That manager’s certainty gives us comfort.’ We say: ‘if everybody were as clear as she is, we would be in a better place’. Clarity and certainty are suddenly married.
The trouble with certainty is that, whilst it spreads and injects comfort, it may be simply misleading. In a complex world, full of uncertainty, some of the people who are apparently blessed with ‘clarity’ and ‘certainty’ may be just wrong! Or maybe not.
In any case, it is more ‘dangerous’ and more politically (managerially) incorrect to declare your doubts or undecided views. Having doubts sounds like a lack of clarity about things. So, it takes even more leadership maturity to hold contradictory views, acknowledge them, and avoid a ‘premature closure’ declaring a position absolutely and unequivocally correct. Doubts? Contradictory views? Mmm!
I have always loved F Scott Fitgerald’s quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function’.
Many people are too intolerant to contradictions, mostly those of other people. As leaders, we are ‘expected’ not to have them. We are expected to project ‘clarity, confidence and certainty’, a ‘package’ traditionally associated to good stewardship.
To acknowledge our own contradictions and even, dare I say, share them, makes us vulnerable. We have also been told that vulnerability is not good. Certainly not for a good leader! But a child is vulnerable, a person in a new relationship is vulnerable, a leader pulled into many directions makes him vulnerable.
To be human is to accept being vulnerable. A non-vulnerable leader is a robot. Trust, by the way, is linked to vulnerability. ‘I trust you’ means I can be vulnerable and you will not abuse of me.
Bringing your own contradictions to the table, your own clouded or untidy areas of thought, your own uncertainties, is a first pass to showing the human side of leadership (is there any other?). Your people will have a human role model of leadership, one that anybody (other than robots) can relate to.
Bringing your own contradictions to the table is bringing your best friends to dinner, one to which you have also invited the people reporting to you.