March 7, 2023
Welcome to the Potential Leader Lab. I'm your host, Perry Maughmer. And today we're going to explore the idea that leaders are broken and flawed humans just like everybody else. So, as you know, my framework for leaders is explore, experiment and evolve. We explore concepts and ideas, experiment with new behaviors and learning what works and doesn't work. And then leveraging those learnings and evolving into the leaders we were meant to be in building on what we already have inside of us. So I would like to tell you, stay tuned because I'm building out that framework to include activities, inputs and outcomes, and we'll be sharing more on that in the coming weeks. Now I've been thinking about doing this particular topic because I shared a few things on social platforms that were of a personal nature and received a great deal of positive feedback, thanking me for being vulnerable. I wasn't necessarily shocked, but it did surprise me a bit that so many people use that word vulnerable, when to me really all I was doing was sharing what was on my mind. One person even thanked me for sharing because he felt that it gave permission to others to do the same. And that is exactly what I had hoped to do. But the bigger question I have for everybody now is why in the world do we need permission? Why do we need permission to be open and honest and transparent? Now, I do hope that when I do it, that it shows other people that it's safe and that deep end of the pool and that they can join me if they'd like, and then others might follow their lead.
And pretty soon we can have open and honest conversations that move us all forward. But I don't think we're in that place yet. And that's kind of what we're going to explore today. I always start off with three quotes to frame the conversation, and the first one is by Simon Sinek, and he said, The great leaders are not the strongest. They are the ones who are honest about their weaknesses. The great leaders are not the smartest. They are the ones who admit how much they don't know. The great leaders can't do everything. They are the ones who look to others to help them. Great leaders don't see themselves as great. They see themselves as human. The second one is from Renee Brown, who is a specialist on the topic of vulnerability. And she says vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness. And finally, I always try to throw one in every now and then for Mother Teresa. And this one is honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. All right. So let's cover why this is important. Everyone is fighting battles we know nothing about. Then that means we all have our demons to battle.
And actually we all have scars to prove that it's happening. Now, everyone deals with these battles in their own way, and it impacts them in their own unique way. And that's okay. No one is immune and no one gets out unscathed. I always like that saying it's no one gets out of life alive. And the more yelling in the leadership, the more these demons show themselves and the more aware you must be. I'm going to share a couple of quotes, additional quotes around this specific thing that I think will kind of frame where we go next. The first is by Carl Jung. He said. Knowing your own darkness is the best method of dealing with the darknesses of other people. And then there's this gem from Charles Bukowski, who's a writer and one of my all time favorites. He said, Don't fight your demons. Your demons are here to teach you lessons. Sit down with your demons and have a drink and a chat and learn their names and talk about the burns on their fingers and the scratches on their ankles. Some of them are very nice. And finally, this is a quote from Todd Kasdan's book, The Upside of Your Dark Side. Why being your Whole Self, Not Just Your Good Self, Drives Success and Fulfillment. He said Perfect balance is not what it means to be whole. Being whole is about being open and accommodating all parts of your personality, the light and the dark passengers, the strengths and the weaknesses.
The successes and the failures. Now, before we get too much further, I want to kind of discuss a few words so that we have a common understanding of what we mean. And the reason I want to do this is because last week I was actually I had the good fortune to listen to both a couple of really great speakers, Hilary Blair and Kiesha Rivers, and they shared a couple of things and they each had a quote and Hillary's was words create worlds and Kesha's was words have history. And so that means, I think from a leadership standpoint, we have to slow down and ensure that we agree on what we're discussing before we dig into it. So with that said, vulnerability. Vulnerability, according to Bernie Brown, is the definition that sorry, let me back up. The definition of vulnerability by Brené Brown is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Another way to think about it is the willingness to show emotion or to allow one's weaknesses to be seen or known willingness to risk being emotionally hurt. Now my own thought is that vulnerability is more a state of mind because you are only vulnerable if you believe there is actually a risk involved and you fear exposure. You are in control of this and can remove any leverage you believe others have by changing your perspective and or your frame of mind.
A couple of things to consider. Other people do not think nearly as much as we'd like to, you know, back up. Other people do not think about us as much as we think they do. They really do have their own shit to worry about. And the other thing is, is from a pre-historic standpoint, our brains are wired that if we're not in with certain people and if we get if we feel like we're going to be ostracized, that can lead to death. Because, you know, 20,000 years ago, you depended upon your clan, Right? And if you were ostracized and ostracized and put out on your own, you most likely were going to die. So so our brain has really retained that that connection that we treat being ostracized or feeling emotionally disconnected from people are our brain translates. That translates. That is kind of a fear of death, you know. So it is it is pretty fundamental to us. Now the next word is broken. And that is suffering emotional pain that is so strong that it changes the way you live, usually as a result of an unpleasant event. Weakness, a quality or feature regarded as a disadvantage or fault, a state or condition of lacking strength. Now I'm going to ask how in the world being vulnerable is mistaken or confused with weaknesses beyond me. We've got to a point in our society where being vulnerable, which is go back to uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.
So let's just focus on that emotional exposure, exposing your emotions, being willing to share what you feel is somehow now connected with weakness. That's a problem we're not going to solve here. But it bears discussion. And then finally, a couple more resilience. The process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands. Now what's interesting is research shows that highly resilient people tend to possess three common traits. Acceptance. See reality for what it really is. Purpose. Have clarity around your values and flexibility, which I love this definition. They have strong beliefs loosely held. The last thing I want to bring up, I haven't mentioned at all, but it's going to play into our discussion is a Jap, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. It's called Kintsugi and they do it by mending the areas of breakage with a lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or aluminum or platinum. I'm sorry, gold, silver or platinum. Now, as a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise. So imagine that you they play up, they take a piece of pottery that's broken and they use lacquer dust and put gold on it so that it actually brings attention to the breakage and the value of it as part of the history rather than something to disguise.
It literally means to join with gold. And it's a reminder to stay optimistic when things fall apart and to celebrate the flaws and missteps of our life. And it teaches us that even though things may be damaged, they are still valuable and have meaning. It teaches us that even though things may be damaged, they are still valuable and have meaning. All right. So if we think about this in context of leadership, so we have to kind of we'll dig in a minute. I'm going to walk you through the history of leadership theory very quickly. So this, you know, don't fall asleep on me. It's not going to take very long. So we're going to start with great man theory in the 1840s. And that was essentially that it was innate and that people were born leaders. So in the 1840s they searched out people and said they held people up and said, this person is a great leader and they're a great leader because they were born that way. And that's the way it goes. Now that went all the way through to the thirties and forties, and then we got into trait theories. So then we talked about train that we could train to the traits. So they essentially took those folks that were the great leaders and said, okay, they possess certain traits. Let's train people with those traits. Then in the forties and fifties, it evolved into behavioral theories.
Now we can we can essentially make leaders. They don't have to be born. In the sixties, we got into contingent or situational theories. Situational leadership was was very big and it's still talked about rightly so today. In the nineties and early 2000s, we had transactional versus transformational theories. I'm sure folks have heard about that. Then around mid 2015 and on, we started talking about things like big we sort of big conversations around servant leadership, spiritual leadership, authentic leadership and vulnerability. Now leadership theory is a dynamic phenomenon and continues to change over time. Right and all of these things, it kind of makes sense. One kind of lead to the next. And so in the really in the modern era, it evolved a shift from focusing on the leaders and their attributes to really considering the complex and continuous interactions and interrelationships among the leader of the followers in the situation. Right. So the resulting theories included shared collective collaborative leadership as well as inclusive leadership. And then finally, we have complexity leadership that's also emerged focusing on the whole system of an organization. Now we've kind of set the stage. We're going to dig into the topic. We will. You, me, everybody listening to this will experience challenge losses and failures in our lives. Now almost all of the anxiety, stress and whatever you want to call it that we experience is mostly due to one thing, and that is our desire to control the world and the resulting issue of the world not really caring what we want.
And so what happens is we have to accept the fact that we have never been we are not now and we will never be in control of anything except ourselves. And quite often the more we try to control people in situations, the worse things get. And so much of our anxiety, frustration, aggravation really stems from the fact that we get up every morning with a clear idea in our minds of what needs to happen for our day to be a success. And we marched forward with that thought. And quite honestly, it doesn't take long before that falls apart and we start getting some anxiety, frustration, aggravation, anger, whatever you want to call it, because the world is not bending to our need. Now again, we can control that. We can go back in and kind of figure out a different approach if we want to. It's not easy, but we can do it. And also it's all based on the fact that we want things to work out perfectly. We don't often get up in the morning and think to ourselves, okay, here's one or two things that I think will go right. I'm okay if two or three of them go horribly wrong. We just don't do that. Now, is that what's going to happen? Probably should. Would it be more realistic? Absolutely. And would it save our emotional state at some point? I believe it would if we had a realistic view of what our expectations were, of how things are going to work out, that we're actually dependent upon other people in situations because we don't control them.
And most likely they're not going to do and behave in the way that we would like them to to achieve our goals because they have their goals. It's pretty simple. It isn't fun. It isn't nice to think about it, isn't it? You know, it isn't pleasing for people who want to control things, but it's the reality. So if we think about resilience, we think about what does it take? What does it take to be resilient? I think that there's there's a number of things that we can talk about. But I want to. Dive into something for a second. This is going to take us down a little bit of a rabbit hole, but it's right along the way of what we're talking about. I have shared, I believe I've shared with a number of people. I don't know if I think I've spoken about it on previous podcast about my own struggle with. Depression. So in my family I have depressive people on one side and folks who enjoy alcohol on the other. And so I've had a little bit of both of those things for myself. Got one of them. Got one of them really nicely under control.
The other one not so much. And in fact, it was just yesterday. It was my wife and I were my wife. Lisa and I were sitting around. We were standing in the kitchen, actually, she's cooking and we're standing there talking. And I said to her, you know. I believe I'm depressed. And much like anybody would. The first question is, well, why? And my response was, I don't know. There's absolutely no reason for it. Things are going well. They're going beyond well. I would even say there's nothing, quote unquote, wrong in my life. But I still can't shake. The feeling of depression. And it's really interesting because it isn't for me and it's I think it's different for everyone. It isn't it isn't as much anything specific around sadness as it is. There's just no joy. Things that should be exciting. Things that should make you happy. Things that should make your spirit rise. Don't. It's just. Um. There's no there's no highs and there's no really deep lows. There's just nothing. You don't get excited, you don't get happy. You certainly don't get joyous. I don't know that I've ever I'd have to really go back and think about any time I've experienced joy in my life, I've been happy. But I would love to I would love to be more joyous in my life. I wanted to share that because it exists and we're talking about people. Sometimes who are thought to have all their shit together.
You know, it looks like from the outside that that everything works. They got it all figured out. Very rarely is that the case. And I hearken back to. Oh, it's probably been close to 25 years ago, if not a little bit longer, when I can remember sitting down with a therapist. And we spoke a couple of times and I went back. And we started talking again. And she said, you know, here's my observation. You've created such a tight box for yourself to live in that there's no space to be human. Now, what's interesting about that is that there's this book and I can't remember the author's name, but it's called Positive Intelligence. And his theory in the book is we all develop coping mechanisms as children. And the challenge is, is when we become adults, we never go back and revisit those and modify them. We carry them into adulthood when they may or may not work anymore. And that resonated with me. Because due to my upbringing and the family dynamic that existed with my sister who's disabled, she's got cerebral palsy and lives at home still with my parents from a very young age, I was self sufficient. I learned to not take up too much space. Whatever needed done I did on my own. Now, that wasn't there's nothing inherently bad about that. In fact, it was actually pretty good as a kid because from an academic standpoint, a sports standpoint, all of those things, I was able to excel because I was very self directed.
Right. Nobody needed to tell me to do homework. Nobody needed to tell me to practice. Nobody needed any of that stuff. I took care of all that stuff on my own. So for a number of years, I kind of reaped the benefits from that. But it doesn't translate well into adulthood because for me, the way that translates into adulthood is I never need help. I never ask for help and I help everybody else. So whenever anybody needs anything, I'm the person they ask and I'm the one who gladly does it. I don't do it begrudgingly. I love helping other people. But a challenge is, is that I never ask for help. I never even imagined that it's an option. I'm just going to do it on my own, whatever that might take. And as an adult that isn't scalable or sustainable. Even though I have been doing it for 55 years. So what that means is. And the reason I share it is because something like that. Affects everybody. Affects everybody that's within listening distance of my voice right now. In some way, shape or form. We all have shit we've got to figure out. Now. Again, back to why we talk about it. We should talk about it because it makes us who we are. I was in a meeting the other day with a group of folks that run businesses, and I was sharing something like this.
And one of the people said, Wow, I appreciate you sharing that. You seem to me like you had everything perfect, like you had it all figured out. I said, that's absolutely not true. At all. I just know how to hide it better. Because I have a demarcation between what I share and what I don't. But what I believe is the more we share those things, the more we normalize it, the more other people will, too. And if everybody does it, and if we can all be honest and open about what we're you know, if we want to go back to Kasdan's book about the upside to our dark side, if we're if we talk about the darkness and the lightness. Everybody has it. It's not it amazes me because not talking about it doesn't make it not exist. But yet it's routine that you get leaders and organizations who don't want to talk about their emotions. They don't want to talk about their employees emotions. But but the truth of it is that that's what essentially leaders do. They manage. They try to have a positive impact on other people's emotional states. Because as far as I can tell with all the research that I do, people do their best work when they feel better. Nobody in the history of the world has ever felt like shit and done their best work.
Nobody ever gets screamed at. Yelled at. Made to feel inferior. Chastised. Use whatever verb you like. But no, that doesn't happen. And the person then says, You know what? I'm going to give it my all now. I feel so much more energized and focused and part of the team. So if we know that, if research tells us this. Why can't we embrace the fact that we're all flawed humans? Not accept embrace. Why can't we show up as a whole human? Someone who? Why can't we practice Kintsugi? And look at those breaks as part of our history. And part of the value of who we are. Instead of trying to come up with this persona that we're strong, intelligent, resilient and have it all figured out, know exactly what to do. Unshakable courage, courageous. The list goes on and on. And we can be all those things from time to time. That's that's expect that no OC But we can also be the other things because we can't have. Light without dark. It doesn't exist. All right, So I'll. I'll dive back in. Now, I just had an off ramp. Just wanted to cover those few things. Now. So what is a resilient leader look like? Interestingly enough, they share some characteristics possess a core set of unshakeable beliefs. All right. We they have beliefs that they stand behind and that they don't fear standing alone to adhere to. They maintain a positive outlook.
They look at the world realistically. And they look at the upside, not the downside. It isn't. I don't want to say it's it's when you say positive, it's not happy. Right. It's not that we go through life with rose colored glasses and think everything's going to work out, but it's that high degree of self efficacy that says no matter what happens, I can take action to make it better. Now, the third one really is funny, given what I just told you. They are comfortable asking for help. So at least in that respect, I'm not that resilient because that's not me. I'm working on it. I actually have goals around it, but it is not my default. They have strong emotional intelligence. They recognize the power of understanding their own emotions as well as other people. And this is really important. They know their triggers. They understand how and when they get triggered emotionally. There's nothing wrong with it. We all do. It's the reaction that's bothersome. There's nothing really that'll stop you from being triggered, but you can figure out how to not react to the trigger. Right. So emotional regulation, there's three components to it are really important. You know, initiating actions triggered by emotions, inhibiting actions triggered by emotions, and then modulating responses triggered by emotions. It's essentially understanding your triggers and being able to act accordingly. And then there are six kind of emotional regulation skills, self awareness, mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, adaptability, self compassion and emotional support.
So there's three more pieces for resilient leaders. They leverage every opportunity to learn. I would guess that most people that are listening to this fall into that category. You're looking to learn from anybody anywhere. You're always trying to increase your knowledge and understanding of yourself and other people. Now number six and number seven are really important. Number six is the ability to move on. And that is we can't ruminate. I was talking to a gentleman the other day and we actually were talking about the difference between reflection and rumination. Reflection. Awesome healthy required you need it. Rumination the opposite and it's a fine line. Reflection essentially is answering three questions. What went well? What didn't go well? What would I do differently? Move on. Rumination is getting caught in that cycle of I could have would have should I wish I would've. I'm horrible. I did this. I should have did. I should have done that. This person probably thinks this on and on and on. I'm sure that I'm I'm now echoing voices in everybody's head because we all have done it before. And it's simple, but not easy to not do it right. Reflection. Healthy rumination Not so much. And the last one, and probably should have been the first one in my mind, is prioritize physical, mental and emotional health. Prioritizing your own wellness. Number one thing any. Call it resilient any good leader is going to do.
Because you can't pour from an empty cup. You have to be in the best shape of your life to help other people. Much like professional athletes, Special forces folks, you know, take your pick, firemen, policemen, you know, people in any kind of service. Right. You have to be in tip top shape physically, mentally and emotionally to help other people. Leadership is a full contact sport. You have to treat it like that. Well, now the question is, what's the ROI of being a vulnerable leader? Why invest in it? Why? Why be vulnerable? Well, there's real business value in speaking the truth. Team people. A team members feel safe to do the same, and that can prevent costly business problems down the line. If we're open and honest as leaders, other people will be too. So when you come up with a stupid idea, they'll tell you. Now they won't tell you it's stupid, but they will voice their opinion and hopefully you're the kind of leader that'll listen. They won't just nod their heads and go along and go, Well, what are we going to do? It can also lead to greater and faster innovation and improve processes and procedures. Vulnerability allows you to recognize when something needs to shift or change, either in yourself, your employees, your leadership, or in your organization's processes. Being open and honest with yourself and your team members will help you muster the courage needed to make the changes when necessary.
Again. Honesty. Vulnerability. It's actually an accelerator for trust, which leads to psychological safety, which if you've known any of the work on psychological safety and Amy Edmondson, she studied these high performing teams and every every possible area, military racing teams, air teams, business teams, you name it, any, any team that was high performing. The only thing that all of them shared was a high degree of psychological safety. And essentially that means the belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes at work. It's a shared expectation held by members of a team that teammates will not embarrass, reject or punish them for sharing ideas, taking risks, or soliciting feedback. The number one thing that exists in all high performing teams, psychological safety that is created through trust, that's accelerated by vulnerability. And remember, we're covering why we would want to be vulnerable as a leader. Now, I would argue that perhaps the greatest return on investment, on practicing vulnerability as a leader is that it allows employees to harness the power of being their full selves at work. And when employees feel valued and supported as human beings, there's no telling what they the organization. And you can achieve. When I feel empowered to be my whole self. Then it's hard to tell what we can achieve as a team. And lastly, it reduces the feeling of isolation that often plague leaders.
It's lonely At the top is not just a saying. In fact, there's. I forget which Shakespeare play it's from. Hmm. It may be Lear, but I'm not sure. But the quote is, and I'll and I'll paraphrase Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Leaders who feel isolated are less likely to have good feedback loops which can help them grow and where they can get input on important decisions. Feeling lonely can add extra stress. Compounding the pressure leaders already feel making them more at risk for burning out. So pretending. That you're not. Vulnerable. Doesn't mean you don't feel vulnerable. And that isolation takes a toll. It's called stress. And stress leads to burnout. All right. So let's take a breath and consider where our exploration has taken us in context of any experimentation we might consider. Here are the my takeaways. Here's the things I would think about. There is a real value, and that is financial, relational, emotional and psychological value in being vulnerable. It hits. It hits all the markers. It also is a great stress reliever to just imagine that you can be open and honest with people when they ask you a question about how you're feeling. And fine is not an answer. Actually fine as an acronym. Freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. That's what Fine stands for. Now, it's not a common practice for leaders to engage in this. Right. And it's going to be risky.
But remember, it's risky to be vulnerable only if you believe it indicates weakness and are concerned that other people might use it against you and you might lose status. And it's a real thing because our brain reads it that way. And it takes time to build. You have to rewire your brain. You have to rewire those connections. And you have to build the support network to do it. You have to feel comfortable. And safe. You have to feel safe. That doesn't mean. That people won't say or do certain things. What it means is do you have do you have safety in in trying it? Why does it matter? There's a great Dr. Seuss quote that says, I believe it is. Those that those that matter won't mind and those that. Mine don't matter. So you have to be clear on who your audience is. And by that I mean. Who you care about as far as what they care about you and what they say and think about you. Because you can't be concerned what every human being thinks of you. You drive yourself crazy. And you'll be stressed all the time. Now, the last two things I'll tell you is maybe we could experiment with Kintsugi leadership so that we can treat our own breaks and repairs as part of our own history and value rather than something to disguise. That would be a great place to be. Where we can value our own breaks and repairs as part of our own history and value.
It's what makes us who we are rather than something to disguise. When I talk with my kids, I often tell them. I wouldn't wish my life on them, but I also would never trade my life for anything because my life got me here. And here's a pretty cool place. I wouldn't go back and change anything. Because changing anything changes everything. I'm not proud of everything that I did, but I'm certainly accountable for it, and I learned from it. And all of those scars that I have. I like them. I still struggle with them. I'm never going to be done with that struggle. But years ago, I can tell you I never would have had that conversation with my wife in our kitchen. I never would have said, Honey, I'm feeling depressed. I do now because it's OC It was actually OC then. That was more of a me thing than a her thing. So I just want you to think about that for yourself. Where can you exercise vulnerability? Start small. And see how good it feels. See how good it feels to share your whole self with whoever that might be in your life that you trust. And after you do it a few times and build that network out, you can start being honest with people that maybe you don't trust because it doesn't matter. Don't let the world change you.
That's the goal for everybody. Because it will and it can. All right. So thanks for listening. And I'm going to take us out with these final three quotes to ponder. The first is by Robert two. Strength of a character isn't always about how much you can handle before you break. It's also about how much you can handle after you've been broken. Another by Brené Brown. The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing. It's about the courage to show up when you can't predict or control the outcome. And finally, this gem by Ernest Hemingway. The world breaks everyone, and afterwards many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break. It kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these, then you can be sure it will kill you too. But there will be no special hurry. Remember all can, most won't, and few do. And so the question is, will you be one of those relentless few who explore, experiment and evolve so you can have a positive impact on the cognitive, emotional and psychological states of those you care about? If your answer is yes, then you are leading. And I thank you because the world needs what you have to offer. And we need it now. Take care of yourself and take care of each other. And I hope to see you back in the lab soon.
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