Ducks look like they have it All Together. Above the water, all is calm. They glide, expressionless and serene.
Below the water, they’re paddling madly trying to stay afloat and to avoid getting eaten. It’s like they’re in an endless, hidden panic.
We’re not so different from the ducks.
If the world discovered that we didn’t have it All Together, we’d be exposed as frauds. Like ducks, we want to be seen as calm, controlled, and at peace. Not to be seen with it All Together would be to show vulnerability to those whom we lead.
So, what do we do? We control the message. We limit exposure and discourse – it limits the angles of attack. We choose our words, particularly those in writing, carefully – lest they come back to bite us.
We often think that other people have it All Together, since what we see of them is the serenity of a duck floating on water. Inner turmoil is hidden – well – inside. Under the water, each of us is mired in our own flavour of crap. Unfortunately, trying to mimic the duck-like image we see in others sets us up for stress and exhaustion. Thus the epidemic of mental health issues plaguing the working world. We delude ourselves.
It’s all a ruse, though. We’re imperfect, stressed, and self-doubting creatures. We think everybody else has it All Together, so we hold ourselves up to impossible standards and feel alone in our fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Recently two friends, Kent and Nick, published articles displaying true vulnerability. They admitted, honestly and bravely, that they don’t have it All Together. Like all of us, they occasionally screw up at work, have self-doubts, and deal with a lack of mental wellness from the stress of it all.
If anything, my respect for these individuals has gone up. It takes an advanced level of introspection to recognize your own failures and to admit to them. If anything, it shows your humanity.
So, what to take from this?
Anybody can show a mask of perfection to the world. It takes a Really Brave Person – a Really Brave Leader – to show vulnerability.
So, let me admit to the world: I Do Not Have It All Together. I don’t know if I have made good career choices or bad. I’m wonder whether I speak up too much or too little. I flounder. I worry that I’ll be exposed for how little I really know about anything at all.
That said, I am okay with my imperfections. They’re what make me normal.
True leaders don’t need to have it All Together all the time. It’s okay to admit that you don’t have perfect foresight or total confidence. Make the best decisions you can, with what information you have, right now. Showing a bit of vulnerability to your employees helps build trust and common cause. It’s not a weakness, it’s a strength.
Some questions to ask yourself: In what areas do I feel confident? Is it legitimate confidence, or self-deception? Where do I feel less confident – where do I have it Less Together? How do I, as a leader, show my humanity? How do I balance showing vulnerability with my responsibility to be the face and voice of the employer?
George Wenzel is a journeyman public servant. He has worked delivering programs and in internal services, most recently in Human Resources. His mission has been to improve service to Canadians by improving frontline management. You can find him online at about.me/georgewenzel, govlife.ca, and on Twitter @georgewenzel.