When we are afraid, uncertain or stressed the natural tendency is to contract.
We might posture and position ourselves to be seen as competent or even infallible rather than face the truth or address the problem.
We can seek our own version of reality. One that will keep our ego and our reputation intact. This leads to conflict, blame, avoidance, denial, alienation, procrastination and a myriad of other outcomes that do not serve to the greater good.
We are choosing to be closed in order to protect ourselves but in doing so, we are creating barriers to healing, progress, and personal growth.
Barriers to our leadership.
Some view openness, or vulnerability, as a position of weakness.
The paradox is that being open actually puts us in the strongest position possible; the position of greatest potential.
Open is the gateway to possibilities.
When we are open we are free to see things as they are and to respond appropriately without the baggage of hidden agendas and ego stories.
We can be present, honest, centered and operate from a place of inner strength even though we are fully aware of the impulse to fight or flee. We trust that open is the only way through the difficulty we face.
Leaders who are open…
- see beyond their personal agenda to the bigger picture.
- strive to embrace and discuss reality, even when it doesn’t feel safe.
- listen carefully, observing both spoken and unspoken communication.
- communicate with sincerity and honesty.
- seek to understand before they act.
- recognize and admit they do not have all the answers.
- stay humble and flexible in their approach.
- accept criticism and failure as a path to learning.
- express their humanness.
- are willing to be known.
With President’s Day approaching it seemed appropriate to include this short story from the journal of Lieutenant Samuel Shaw. Note how the power of being open is expressed with great simplicity and with no small historical significance.
During this period of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was at the point of mutiny after Congress had failed to provide needed payments and supplies. George Washington stepped to the front of the room to address his hostile officers, prepared to deliver the news that the newly formed Congress was still unable to meet their demands.
This was a highly charged and very critical moment in the history of our country. Washington was not known as a great orator and, having stumbled through the opening paragraph of the letter from Congress, he paused for a moment. Then something unexpected happened.
“One circumstance in reading this letter must not be omitted. His Excellency, after reading the first paragraph, made a short pause, took out his spectacles, and begged the indulgence of his audience while he put them on, observing at the same time, that he had grown gray in their service, and now found himself growing blind. There was something so natural, so unaffected, in this appeal, as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory; it forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.
The General, having finished, took leave of the assembly, and the business of the day was conducted in the manner which is related in the account of the proceedings. I cannot dismiss this subject without observing, that it is happy for America that she has a patriot army and equally so that Washington is its leader. I rejoice in the opportunities I have had of seeing this great man in a variety of situations ; — calm and intrepid where the battle raged, patient and persevering under the pressure of misfortune, moderate and possessing himself in the full career of victory. Great as these qualifications deservedly render him, he never appeared to me more truly so, than at the assembly we have been speaking of.
On other occasions he has been supported by the exertions of an army and the countenance of his friend; but in this he stood single and alone. There was no saying where the passions of an army, which were not a little inflamed, might lead; but it was generally allowed that longer forbearance was dangerous, and moderation had ceased to be a virtue. Under these circumstances he appeared, not at the head of his troops, but as it were in opposition to them ; and for a dreadful moment the interests of the army and its General seemed to be in competition! He spoke, — every doubt was dispelled, and the tide of patriotism rolled again in its wonted course. Illustrious man! what he says of the army may with equal justice be applied to his own character.”
From The journals of Major Samuel Shaw : the first American consul at Canton : with a life of the author.
Washington didn’t try to pump up the troops, win them over with his charisma, blame an inept congress or distort reality. Instead, he was real. He was open.
The turning point was a moment of vulnerability; a moment that touched the hearts of these men and opened them to a new perspective and a new appreciation for the man who had given his life to their cause.
They were able to see a new possibility for their reality.
Open takes courage.
Open creates space.
Open lets us see,
Open lets us choose.
Open inspires, creates and connects.