The Fifth Paradoxical Commandment

Date June 30, 2008

The Mentorship Approach With Teams & Groups

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable: be honest and frank anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

We all have a face we wear in public. Some philosophers and psychologists refer to this as an act or a façade because it’s meant to show people what you want them to see and hide some of your less likeable qualities.

The façade changes depending on the situation for most of us. We might be very friendly and try to look interested in the details of a fellow churchgoer’s recent experience. We might be focused on fun, joking and teasing with our teammates and opponents in the bowling league. We try to look knowledgeable and professional when we talk to clients.

But as leaders we feel a unique pressure to look competent and together and are often on guard against anyone seeing our weaknesses. This can dictate that we have the “leader façade” in every situation if we think there’s a slight chance one of our team members will be present – or even if a friend or family member of a team member might be present. Boy does it get tiring!?

The common misconception is that maintaining an appearance of being together and in charge will give us status and power. We have information available to us to see that isn’t true but we’re reluctant to use it. When we see a leader who always looks calm and competent we tend to think we’re seeing an act. When we have a leader in a social group, like a volunteer organization or a church, who is always pleasant and always competent, we feel distant.

We are all more inclined to follow someone when we connect with that person’s heart. We can’t easily connect with a heart when it’s hidden behind a well-heeled façade. We connect with someone when we identify with that person. We are inspired to follow someone when we see flaws and foibles plus strength and intention and character to rise above them. We are especially inspired to follow someone who has a powerful vision that flows from his or her heart and resonates with us. There is no resonating happening in a façade.

The true power of a leader comes from authenticity. It comes from being a full and complete person who knows himself or herself and is learning to be comfortable with all those facets. It comes from being comfortable with one’s own limitations and quirks, and from having the empathy to extend grace and acceptance and forgiveness to others for their limitations and quirks. It comes from sharing a real path of struggle and failure and success which others can emulate. It does not come from presenting an untrue picture of success and competence that denies human nature.

I can remember staff meetings with our child care and preschool teachers where we spoke from the heart about our vision for the center and what we wanted it to be for the children and their parents. When we were honest about our limitations, whether they were financial or based on a lack of information in a certain area or our inability to “do it all,” the magic happened. Our staff members who shared our vision wanted to be part of it. They looked at how they could get training or made suggestions for doing things on a tight budget and offered to give more of their time and effort.

When we admitted our limitations, we opened the door for them to become powerful.

And it will always be so. Other people will not have the opportunity to extend us grace or compassion or help or guidance until we admit our flaws and weaknesses. And most people are much more inclined to step up and improve a situation through their effort and involvement than they are to follow an unblemished façade of perfection.

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