“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. To be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen [is] incredibly, incredibly difficult.” – Brene Brown*
I share with you today what for me is a grand, wonderful and scary-as-all-get-out experiment. I see it as a petrie dish for examining authority, leadership and empowerment. You may tell me, “attaboy, Dan” or instead argue, “you’re abdicating and foolish to do so.” I’m open to either, but I’m seeking something else. I’m inviting you to BE REAL (coincidentally the name of my second book) and see if you can touch this scary spot and stay there for a few minutes — in your leadership of your own kids, team, aging parents, church folk, whomever. Whether you come down the way I came down is really not the point. What’s right for me may not be right for you. But entering into my uncertainty and considering a radical move just might benefit you and your “followers.”
Last week I wrote about letting go of my power, prerogative, and prestige in order to follow my daughter, who was poised to lead in ways I couldn’t. In the conversation that ensued with my “followers,” my kids (ages 25, 23 and 17), pushed me and my wife further, asking that we cease “judging” and “pressuring” them. Instead, they said, we should realize that they needed to make their own choices and relinquish our position of judgment.
I struggled mightily inside, then spoke. I said that the eldest had wrested her freedom, and I was 100% comfortable now letting go. But with the younger two, although I was hugely trusting of them, in all honesty, I wasn’t sure I could altogether let go of responsibility to watch, guard, opine. I felt vulnerable saying that, revealing my doubt about them, as well as my uncertainty about my position on the matter. I flat-out told my kids: I’m not sure! Because I could see:
- The right answer (according to conventional wisdom and a LOT of great psychologists and leadership teachers) was: THE leader should NOT relinquish their judgment; kids/followers need/want boundaries; their brains aren’t formed; they can’t see what we can see. I could hear those judgments of me, as well as their incredulity: “You’re going to ask your kids what THEY think you should do? Seriously?!” On the other hand:
- The right answer for my kids (and nearly all adults who are “managed”) was: Let it go! Would YOU want to be judged, watched and second-guessed when you were 17 or 23 (or 50 or 80)? Would that promote feelings of trust, openness and responsibility or . . . resentment, self-doubt, and concealment)?
I quoted Brene Brown at the top, from one of the best (and certainly most hilarious) recorded workshops I’ve ever heard or read. I did “let myself be seen,” as she put it, by my kids, and it did feel difficult. It did not feel the least bit courageous! But I think the conversation was absolutely the right thing to do. I think we lead best when we are most real.
I had genuine uncertainty, which I shared with them, and I made a choice. Isn’t that what we do in life? As adults we may sometimes seek the counsel of a boss or mentor, spouse or rabbi. But as adults our greatest and most scary gift is the gift of choosing to own our own lives, judge our own behavior, and honor those whom we may well want to control. What do you think of fully relinquishing your power, prerogative and prestige, “to be vulnerable, to let [yourself] be seen,” however difficult, in order to
Lead with your best self?!
* As I’ve suggested, I highly recommend Dr. Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability (which turns out to be about being authentic and powerful). The workshop (I listened to it on Audible and couldn’t wait to get back in the car to hear the next installment) is excellent. For a taste, she has two great Ted Talks as well: one on Vulnerability and another on Shame.