This has been a week of nakedness. Not of the flesh, but of the self. My partner and colleague Bonnie Flatt wrote a powerfully honest blog about vulnerability and leadership. Another colleague and partner Carrie Kish wrote a moving and courageous blog post about leadership and identity. And next week my colleague and partner Eddie Marmol and I are doing a breakout session for Harris Corporation’s engineering week called The Naked Leader. Apparently it’s garnered the most attention for the week and has a waiting list.
I’d say the stars are aligning to tell us something. Either that or this a Freudian free for all. Personally I believe it’s a reflection of a cry for connection, authenticity, honesty and simplicity in a society that has traded for a digital illusion of such and found it lacking. I see this everywhere in my interactions, and especially in leadership.
There are myriad definitions of leadership and I won’t propose to have the right one, or even suggest there is a right one. But out of deep respect for the courage and honesty of my colleagues, above, I will share from my heart and soul. It is said that we each have a Scary Good At Gift, or SGAG, as Dave Logan of Tribal leadership fame calls it. Mine involves sensing people and connecting with them at a deep level. And my SGAG shouts through every fiber of it’s being that we as a society, and perhaps beyond, yearn for the kind of connection and freedom that honest and sometimes uncomfortable conversation can create.
Carrie shared in her post her crisis of identity, trying to connect and be competent in the new territories of her leadership. Ultimately she is most powerful being her true self, yet that doesn’t always work for certain other people. I say perhaps it does, only it’s honesty triggers something in others that makes them uncomfortable. In which case I say good. It’s easy for us to say that comfort is good, even possibly a goal. But I also know that in the end, when we are close to death, the regrets people share are always about the discomfort they didn’t live through to realize the gifts on the other side.
Why is naked leadership so important and what does it mean, to me?
There’s a groundswell of missing conversations, and people settle instead for a one dimensional version of what life could be. Barely a day goes by without me hearing complaints that reflect a perceived inability to speak one’s truth. It’s not that it’s The Truth, but simply an opportunity to be heard about something deemed very important, the repression of which leads to resignation, anger or complacency that robs us of the vitality of life.
- We wait for permission to be fully self-expressed and in so doing we give up our greatest freedom. Peter Block says that true freedom is our ability to commit to what is important to us, to be the authors of our own lives and experiences, but we confuse freedom with autonomy. I say that leadership is creating the space for
that freedom, and that includes our personal leadership.
- Self-expression isn’t about saying whatever I want. It’s an expression of Self with a capital S, tapping into the greater undercurrent that yearns to surface. Creating the space for that, either as a formal leader or as an expression of personal leadership, is a noble and courageous act. Paradoxically, a selfless act.
Keeping with the theme my colleagues have teed off “I’ll show you mine before you show me yours.” First, it’s occurred to me that those I consider in “my tribe” are all experienced competent people who also happen to be challenging themselves to grow by entering new territory and becoming novices again, despite their incredible experience and ability to just be comfortable with what is. That’s good. I don’t feel so alone, just reasonably scared.
The new horizons for me, and my partners who agreed to join me on a journey where “safe return is doubtful” (as Sir Ernest Shackleton advertised in 1915 recruiting volunteers to cross the Antarctic), is shifting my work from an individual focus to more widespread organizational culture change. I never liked working in corporations, it always felt too stifling, too much politics and posturing. But I can’t really hide anymore. The impact of soulless organizations is everywhere, and as the late great Jerry Garcia once said “Somebody has to do something and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
So next week my colleagues and I will start a small conversation in a very large company knowing we don’t have all the answers, with a group of people who live for answers. Speaking for myself, I will continue to go into companies and talk to very smart leaders who know a lot more than I do about what they do and have expectations of answers that won’t be fulfilled, since my work isn’t about answers but about inquiries that reveal new perspectives for breakthrough results. I will show up naked, with my SGAG, my experience and an earnest yet passionate commitment to tap into the missing conversations that will bring life and vitality into the network of conversations that make up the organization. Like any naked leader I will be driven by my commitment to a greater possibility, one that wouldn’t happen otherwise, so there’s nothing to fail at. The cost will be vulnerability, but isn’t that a small price to pay for creating breakthroughs? And if you believe, as I do, that followers make leaders (and not the other way around), isn’t it easier to trust and access a naked leader than one armored up pretending they know everything? Would it make a difference for you if your leaders were open to what they don’t know, and invited your own wisdom to show up?
What is naked leadership to you? Share your thoughts and experiences!