When Leadership Means Leaning On and Letting Go

leading by leaningLast week I experienced a very difficult, watershed day.

It was the kind of day where you experience just about every emotion known to man and wish desperately that you had the power to turn back the clock.

The truth is, I’ll be “going through it” – the pain and reality of it – for a while.  But in the process I realized I’ve finally come to the point in my life where I have accepted that there is no strength in suppressing the pain of life’s experiences as I was apt to do for most of my life.

I’ve finally accepted that real strength comes from allowing yourself to go through the pain, to experience it fully and understand it fully, and then to come out the other side transformed in unexpected ways.

Strength or Vulnerability?

For years I thought the words “leadership” and “strength” were in many ways synonymous.  I heard things like, “Lisa is strong, she’s a leader, she’ll be fine,” or, “you’re the leader, you need to be strong for everyone else.”

And while I’m not advocating that military leaders break down crying in the middle of battle, I have come to the point where I believe the word “leadership” can also be synonymous with the word “vulnerable.”  After all, it’s our humanity that brings with it vulnerability in its purest form.

I have come to believe it’s a sign of strength to embrace this humanity and allow ourselves to accept and experience the depth of our own vulnerability.

The power of leaning on others

Last week I received a reminder that when we allow ourselves to lean on others, and to be open to letting them lead us to the truth, the energy and power between us multiplies.  We, and the person or people we open ourselves up to, all leave the experience more empowered.

When we lean on others it is a gift to them, an opportunity for them to serve and to experience the joy of giving in the process.

When we choose to lean on someone who knows us at our core, who knows the path we’ve taken in our life and who understands what causes our pain, then we are destined to see the truth through them that we cannot see alone, in that moment, through our tears.

Sometimes, to be able to lead requires leaning on others in order to simply see that truth…enabling us to get back to our true leadership path.

The power of letting go

And this is where knowing your true path is invaluable.  Because it’s during those difficult and transformational times in our lives when it’s so easy to lose our way.

Knowing in our soul what our true leadership path is, and letting go of what is not on that path, even if it tempted us at our core, is at the essence of being true leaders simply by living our lives.

Are you strong enough to lean on others and let go?

 ~

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RELATED POSTS:

Getting to the Heart of Vulnerability in Leadership

 Are the Best Leaders the Most Vulnerable?

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Getting to the Heart of Vulnerability in Leadership

Sometimes things happen for a reason.

I should have known when Steve Woodruff, my #LeadershipChat partner in crime, suggested the topic of vulnerability for tomorrow night’s chat that I would find myself over the past week feeling quite, unexpectedly, vulnerable.

I think there are two kinds of vulnerability.  The first – the kind I experienced -  is a negative form that comes from fear. 

Like all transplant patients I have to take daily immunosuppressive medications to prevent my body from rejecting my donor’s kidney.  Because of this I am more vulnerable to infections, and this tends to make me more fearful at this time of year, especially when I begin to spread myself too thin.  Unfortunately, spreading myself thin has become a subconscious addiction and true acrobatic feat lately; thus I ended up getting sick. 

I also ended up with a computer that seemed to sense my need to slow down and just stopped working for two days.  I couldn’t get any real work done and am still thick in the process of trying to reconnect everything.

So, I’ve been very attuned to some of the emotions associated with being vulnerable this week:

  • Fear (of ramifications)
  • Guilt (“Who am I letting down because I’m getting behind?”)
  • Blame (“If I had planned better I would have seen this coming and adjusted appropriately”)
  • Anger (I can’t get anything done!)
  • Crabbiness – I know this isn’t technically an emotion, but since I’m feeling very crabby please humor me. :)

The second kind of vulnerability - the kind of  uniquely memorable leaders – is the positive sort borne of love. 

“What?” you ask, “she’s talking love again this week?”  Yes, I have no choice but to talk love again this week.  Because I think the kind of vulnerability that characterizes great leaders is derived from the love they have for their vision, for the organization, for the way in which their product or service helps others, and for the community of people they have working with them to accomplish great deeds.

For can there be another reason strong enough to compel a leader to allow themself, maybe even encourage themself, to be vulnerable? To be “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded or hurt,” and “open to temptation or persuasion” as the definition states?

Not that I enjoy using the process of elimination but it seems a useful tool in this case.  Take for example greed.  Greed is a strong enough reason to compel leaders to take certain actions – but to expose themselfand their career willingly with the possiblity of serious ramifications, perhaps strategic, financial, relational or other?

What about hate? Would it compel a leader to be vulnerable? Arrogance? What about fear itself?

I couldn’t come up with another reason that seemed to make any sense as to why someone would open themselfup like that – willingly – withfaith that there will be a rich return for everyone involved.

What I did find as I was researching emotions was this quote by Ed Welch in his post Strong Emotions; Extreme Confidence, “Emotions portray what is happening in our hearts.”

Thus my belief that the ability to open yourself up, the strength to be exposed at the core of yourself, must emerge from the heart.  Of course, there must also be courage – which is why last week’s #LeadershipChat topic and this week’s go hand in hand.

I wrote a post a few months ago that asked, “Are the Best Leaders the Most Vulnerable?” I’d like to end with a few sentences from that post that solidify how I’m feeling as I write this now…

“When I think about Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I think about the word “love.” I think about people who loved and embraced their followers and their communities…They let their enthusiasm for their causes - which literally means the spirit of god within – shine through without any hesitation, even when they were most vulnerable.”

Can we, as leaders, aspire to such acts of courage…?  I know the leaders I most respect and find myself inspired by are the ones who are doing just that.  How about you? Please share…

And please join Steve and I for #LeadershipChat tomorrow night, November 9th, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time when we’ll discuss vulnerability in leadership.

If this chat is anything like the last few you won’t want to miss it!

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Photo is Heart in Hands Belt Buckle by Lonesome Road Studio.

Are The Best Leaders the Most Vulnerable?

I caught a brief discussion on TV the other day between four religious scholars who were discussing the leadership of Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  What they felt was one of the most important similarities among these leaders was that they were all “called” to their leadership roles – and, for the most part, reluctantly. 

They didn’t spend their early years making “all the right political moves” to position themselves as leaders, and they certainly didn’t develop their own value system based on the “constituency” they wanted to lead.  No, they were men of truth and justice who were called to say “yes” when it would have been easier for them – for anyone – to say, “I’m not the right person for this role” or, “I’m afraid” – for myself, for my family, of failure, or that I’m simply not worthy…

Is it that reluctant leadership – leadership that does not come from arrogance, ego, political confidence and aspiration, or a privileged birth that is predictive of the best leaders?

And, because of their reluctance to be leaders, are the best leaders also the most vulnerable?

If vulnerability is defined as, “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded or hurt, “and “open to temptation or persuasion,” then would you define Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as vulnerable?  I would.

And I wonder… is it their vulnerability that makes them stand out in our minds as truly great - because we know what they endured physically and emotionally – or did their vulnerability make them better leaders because their followers knew their true hearts, minds and souls?

If it’s the first case – that their vulnerability – their physical and emotional suffering, the temptation to say “no” when they knew they were called to say “yes” –  is what makes them stand out in our minds as truly great, then what does that mean to us as leaders?  Goodness knows I’m hoping that we don’t have to bear such suffering in order for us to be great at leading our teams, companies and organizations. 

So that brings us to the second option.  Perhaps it’s the fact that their hearts, minds and souls were stripped of all walls and were thus an open book for their followers to read; the fact that their followers recognized and understood their vulnerability, that made them great leaders that others so willingly and passionately followed.  If this is the case – is this something that we as leaders can aspire to?

I think so.

I wrote in my post about the art of tearing down constricting walls that I wanted to strip off my own walls because they were not only preventing me from breathing, they were preventing others from seeing and feeling the real passion and enthusiasm I have for them and for my teams, colleagues, and for big ideas that I think can genuinely change the world.  I can’t tell you how many times recently I’ve heard others back down from using words that emit passion and enthusiasm because they didn’t want to step outside of what is often considered “proper” corporate behavior.  People who’ve literally retracted the word “love” as fast as it rolled off their tongues and who fear embracing the hearts of their customers.

When I think about Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I think about the word “love.” I think about people who loved and embraced their followers and their communities. People who empowered their “customers/fans” and acted in their best interest rather than self-interest out of genuine love for them.  They let their enthusiasm for their causes - which literally means the spirit of god within – shine through without any hesitation, even when they were most vulnerable.

Can we, as leaders, aspire to such acts of courage…?  I know the leaders I most respect and find myself inspired by are the ones who are doing just that.  How about you? Please share…

Please consider subscribing so you don’t miss a postSubscribe Here to receive posts in your in-box automatically. To receive posts via “READER” Subscribe Here - thank you – I’m honored to have you as a reader!

Photo is Put Your Heart Out There by Coach Cassandra Rae.