Leaders Are People Too
One of the biggest challenges that leaders face on a daily basis, is the very misguided notion that they are superheroes. There’s an unspoken myth that says leaders are somehow made of tougher stuff than your average human. What’s even worse? As leaders, we ourselves perpetuate the myth, consciously or not.
This has got to stop.
LEADERS ARE HUMAN BEINGS FIRST AND FOREMOST. (yes, I just wrote that in super-loud, all-caps -- because this point matters!)
So, whether you are a leader in business or the political realm, a parent, a chair of a committee, a teacher or any other person that can be viewed as holding a position of influence, authority and/or power, it’s essential that you get really clear on this fact. Because when you aren’t clear, when you think you’re somehow “better than” or “separate from” those around you, you invariably pretend that you’re infallible. And pretending that you’re infallible is a set-up for failure.
When we as leaders pretend that we’re infallible, we ignore the very real human foibles that plague us all. We act like we’re healthy, when we’re coming down with the flu. We put on a “happy face” when we’re angry or frustrated. We ignore the fact that we’ve just been dealt a myriad of personal curve balls, including things like devastating health diagnoses which send us into overwhelm and then try to carry on with our day as if all is normal.
The problem is that our brain knows that things aren’t “normal”. And so, try as we might to pretend otherwise, our “human-ness” reveals itself -- but in unacceptable ways. We snap at our colleagues; we yell at our students; we withdraw from our peers; we project our feelings on to those around us --think some version of, “Why are YOU being so nasty?” when it’s really US that’s being nasty.
So, what’s the remedy? How do we show up as effective leaders when the world expects us to be invincible, and we are feeling anything but? In short: we take responsibility and remind those around us that we are human too. We speak to what is actually going on.
We share that we are having a difficult time -- appropriately.
We acknowledge our fatigue -- without letting ourselves off the hook for the tasks that are our responsibility.
We name that we’ve been thrown a curveball or two (or ten!) and then do our best to move forward, knowing that the folks around us are aware that we are not operating at our optimum levels.
In short, we give ourselves permission to be human.
Caveat: this is not about making excuses or passing the buck. This is not about over-sharing details of our personal lives. It is about being vulnerable (again, appropriately) to the degree that ensures you can be honest about your humanity, while being responsible for the tasks that are yours.
When we can be real and human as leaders, we create an environment in which those around us have permission to be equally real. They, too, know that they can take a day off when they’re sick. They, too, know that it’s okay to have an “off-kilter” day. They understand that sometimes, we just can’t have all of the answers to all of the problems. And the world still moves on.
Bottom-line: as leaders, expecting super-human behavior from ourselves is futile. Nobody is super-human. Not even our leaders. The sooner we can all show up as our very real HUMAN selves, especially in our leadership, the sooner we will be able to work cohesively, meaningfully, and effectively.