Vulnerability in Leadership

As a leader, I recognize how important it is for me—and those leaders I follow—to discern how we express our leadership in the workplace. Similar to the Compline in the Christian tradition of the canonical hours, we can take time each evening to reflect on our day and review how we spoke and interacted with others. In addition, we can examine our motives to see whether we truly acted for the good of others or instead worked for personal gain or advantage. Then, in a gentle and non-judgmental manner, we can reflect on how to better lead others the following day. While I am not suggesting it is wrong for leaders to receive some benefit or merit, I do think that when we make decisions for personal advantage, we may in fact work against the collective good. I want to be a leader that is self-aware without being self-absorbed.

With this self-awareness comes recognition of our personal strengths and weaknesses. When leaders try to hide their weaknesses or limitations, we present ourselves as a model of perfection. Generally, this is accompanied by extremely high expectations of others in the workplace. While I don’t think leaders should go out of their way to highlight their flaws and imperfections, I appreciate the authenticity of leaders who demonstrate a degree of personal vulnerability. As a leader, I want people to recognize that I am a human being with feelings and challenges and failings who can relate to their own humanness as well.

Another aspect of vulnerability is the willingness to trust others with important tasks and responsibilities. Leaders are often viewed as the problem-solvers, but are generally far removed from both the problems and the knowledge necessary to solve them. Rather than micro-manage people, it is often far more effective for leaders to empower frontline staff to address problems head-on as these staff will recognize issues as they emerge and will know how to respond accordingly. This empowerment can happen when leaders identify the things we value, are most concerned with and want to see more of, which then leads us to build on people’s strengths as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses. In addition, leaders can promote positive growth by demonstrating appreciation and celebrating successes, which helps foster an organizational culture in which people feel pride about their accomplishments and are motivated to seek continuous improvement.

Empowerment does come at a risk, though, as leaders are ultimately accountable for results. However, leaders that utilize a strength-based approach are more likely to create a positive environment that promotes greater work performance and the improved well-being of employees. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

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Pros and Cons

Tonight I took off my arm sling and went outside for a run. I felt so free without the heavy weight on my arm and it was nice not to get hot and sweaty under all the metal and padding. I’m not supposed to take it off yet as my broken wrist is still healing, but I’m tired of wearing the sling all the time. I definitely still need it for everyday activities, as it’s painful when I pick up things or bend my wrist.

As I ran, I thought about how the sling is a hindrance to running, but an essential tool for using my right hand to carry, grab or push things. It’s interesting how something can benefit in one area but detract in another. It’s like my phone, which helps me professionally to access my email, schedule and resources while I’m out of the office or in meetings, but is a significant hindrance to family life when used in the evenings and weekends.

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The Secret to a Happy Marriage

Trust, kindness, friendship, shared values and mutual attraction are all important components to a successful marriage, but this is the secret to a truly happy one: Hire a housekeeper. Although the cost may require you to work an extra year or two before retirement, you’ll likely never have to experience your spouse throwing a toilet brush at your head when they’ve just finished a few hours of housecleaning on a Saturday morning and you’ve just come home from a long run and tossed your sweaty clothes on the bathroom floor.

Of course, another solution is to not marry a slob, but frankly, that will do nothing to support job creation in the service industry, so I would strongly encourage couples who care about the economy and their marriage to follow the secret advice noted above.

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

In my role as the communications director for a large nonprofit organization, one of my many responsibilities involves serving as a national spokesperson. This often requires me to do media interviews for TV, radio and print news. 

There is nothing I dislike more than public speaking, so whenever possible I try to respond to media requests by email or phone. This only works some of the time, so I do occasionally need to be on TV or radio for an interview. When this happens, I do my best to slow down and not say “like” every five seconds. I usually get through theses experiences with my fragile ego intact, but I still remember one interview in which I awkwardly stood sideways to the camera in an effort to hide the black eye that my three-year-old had given me with his elbow the night before. 

The worst interviews for me happen in a “green room.” This is usually a small circular booth where I need to sit on a stool and listen to an interviewer through an earpiece. A fake background (ie Toronto skyline) is added digitally by the technicians. During the interview I can’t see anyone or even locate a camera in the booth to focus on, so the process feels very unnatural to me. I often have a panic attack right after the interview wondering if I remembered to keep my eyes open while I was concentrating on hearing the interviewer through my earpiece.

So, it’s totally logical that I will spend tomorrow morning leading a training session on how to speak with the media. The truth is that I’m better at teaching people how to be effective spokespersons than I am at doing it myself. Rather than feeling like a fraud, I’m trying to own up to who I am and accept myself for my strengths and weaknesses.

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Full Circle

I was 12 when I started my first job. It involved selling popcorn and cokes on a Saturday at the football stadium in Winnipeg. I was excited about the opportunity as I could make some money and also watch the Blue Bombers play.

My job involved carrying around a tray of soft drinks to sell to people watching the game in the stands. When I was almost finished one tray, I asked some of the other kids if I could leave a few of my drinks with them while I got another tray. I only did this because I saw the other young people doing the same thing to maximize their opportunity to make more sales early in the game.

When I came back to get the drinks I’d left, the other kids pretended that they didn’t know what I was talking about so that they could sell these drinks without having to cover any of the costs. When my father picked me up after the game, I had to tell him that I’d made no money as I had to pay the stadium back for the drinks that I’d lost. I’d worked for hours with nothing to show for it. My dad never let me work there again, so my first job only lasted one day.

When I was growing up, I was naïve and overly trusting, but experiences such as the football stadium job helped toughen me up so that I could protect myself from those who might try to take advantage of me in the future. It’s easy to take this toughness too far, though, and become cynical and distrustful of others. Now that I’m in my mid 40s, I’m finding that I need to allow myself to be more vulnerable and trusting of others, as this is a healthier and more fulfilling way to live. Yes, I will be taken advantage of at times and likely hurt by others, but it’s better to assume that people are good and generous than to expect the worse of them.

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Sandwiches

“Sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine
I like sandwiches, I eat them all the time.”—Fred Penner

This morning we took our children to a Fred Penner concert held at the outdoor stage at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. It wasn’t as crowded as I expected—probably because it was cold by the lake—but every parent seemed excited to be there, even more so than their children. Many of us grew up with Penner’s music and TV show, so there was a deep appreciation in the audience for his positive influence on our lives.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the concert. After four decades of performing, Penner is still a great musician and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Earlier this year he even won a fourth Juno for his latest album Hear the Music, which we bought after the concert and got him to autograph.

It’s inspiring to observe someone who is so passionate about his profession. Not only is Penner’s music highly entertaining, his songs also help children and adults learn how to better love themselves, others and the world around them.

I have no desire to be a musician, but I do wish to work at something that I’m passionate about and that will enrich the lives of other people. But mostly, I want to have a hundred sandwiches and eat them all at once.

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Faith in Humanity

As much as possible, I try to focus on what is good in the world and to appreciate the generous and thoughtful actions of others. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to understand what motivates people to do the things they do.

For example, today the following happened:

  1. Someone decided to leave a disgusting mess all over the toilet seat in the washroom at work and didn’t even bother to flush. Surely the person must have known that wasn’t appropriate, so why do that in a place you work with others?
  2. A man ahead of me on the sidewalk deliberately tossed a food wrapper on the ground and kept walking without even looking to see if anyone was watching. He was metres away from a garbage container.
  3. I made the mistake of reading the comment sections on some online news sites. There are very few activities that can destroy one’s faith in humanity quicker than reading the online comments submitted by anonymous trolls.

On a positive note, two strangers running by on our street helped us to corner our puppy who had escaped from the house. They didn’t even bother to stop their watches first (that’s a big deal for runners).

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