I, like most people (I hope), struggle to align my values with my actions. I want to be open, kind and patient, but instead I can find myself shutting down, getting defensive, ignoring people who want to connect, and being hard on myself and others.
I am a team leader working with a small team. This is my first experience in a management position, and let me confess – I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. My workload is often overwhelming, and I’m frequently setting unrealistic expectations for myself. I must be perfect. Anything less is failure. See what I mean about being hard on myself?
Regretfully, the people in my team have to deal with me whenever I can’t hold myself in a good state and end up losing my balance, because we share an office. When the gremlins start poking me and saying “you’re unprofessional, you’re stupid, you’re useless, you’re worthless” I push against the shame that rises up inside by becoming controlling and bossy to the point of turning into a little dictator. Instead of saying “I don’t know what to do in this situation, can you help me? What would you suggest?” I act like I know all the answers and don’t need anyone’s input, thanks very much. I forget what leadership really means, and get trapped in old-world thinking: do as I say, not as I do; respect me because I tell you to; I have more power than you, therefore you have nothing to teach me.
Fortunately, I have done a lot of self-awareness work over my so-far-short life and I’m big on communication, so my team understands this is something I struggle with. Identifying the behaviour(s) I’d like to change is only part of the challenge though; the real work is in making those changes happen.
If I want to be open as a team leader, I need to not only share my vulnerabilities with my team, but create a space in which they feel safe to share their needs. I must have the courage to really listen to their answers when I ask “What can I do better as your team leader?”
I tried this the other day, and it was very painful. The moment I got the feedback “Well, sometimes your tone can be really horrible and it makes me feel like crap”, the gremlins started hollering. By the time I got home that evening, that comment had escalated into a full-blown crisis: I’m a horrible bitch, everyone hates me, I can never do anything right. After blubbering all over my boyfriend, I went away to have some quiet time on my own. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and attempted to come back to myself. To the me who is kind to others and herself, who doesn’t mind making mistakes and being imperfect, because it’s the act of trying and learning that matters.
This is when I started to understand that being open, really, truly open, is expanding beyond what you think is possible. You think you can open only so much? Well, be prepared to go bigger. Don’t just open your door, let it come off its hinges. Why not take down the whole wall, while you’re at it? Because when you choose to be open, you invite events and people into your life that open you further. It’s terrifying and painful and also absolutely worth it, because you end up with so much more room for joy.
I am grateful for this, for my team at work, who dare me to open wide. Wider, wider, wider…
This post is inspired by Daring Greatly, a book I’m reading at the moment written by shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown.