07 Jun '10
The Authentic Us
In a previous blog we looked at the freedom of being who God made us to be and being comfortable in our own skin. This comfortableness in our skin allows us to increasingly set aside the need for pretence that we are something we are not and it gives us the freedom to disclose who we are with confidence.
Authentic people have real issues in their marriages, families, work and relationships. They have fears, anxiety over certain things, become defensive when certain buttons are pushed and suffer from insecurities. This side of heaven we are plagued with all kinds of issues that go to our Emotional Intelligence, wiring, weaknesses, shadow side and vulnerabilities. Anyone who pretends otherwise is either fooling themselves or living with false pretences.
What people need from leaders of deep influence is honesty (appropriate to the situation) about issues they face and how they deal with them. I do not look like an insecure person and generally I am not. But when I share some of my insecurities with groups of leaders they sit up and listen – they are surprised – but guess what, they also related. I am not the only one with insecurities and in disclosing my issues I gain a hearing and encourage others. It gave me greater influence with them because in seeing the real me, they resonated with the issues I raised and it provided the framework for significant dialogue among us. I am continually amazed at the power of appropriate transparency.
Our transparency with others creates an atmosphere of transparency where it becomes safe to talk about those issues that plague us all but which we are afraid to disclose. Creating that atmosphere is a gift to the team you lead or the people you influence because hidden, these issues hurt us while they can be resolved or helped in the light. In doing so, we also create a culture of authenticity where struggles are acknowledged, people are encouraged and facades discouraged. It is a culture of authentic grace and truth.
This combination of grace and truth that characterized Christ is crucial to healthy transparency. Truth means that we are committed to walking in truth, speaking truth, and creating cultures of truth. But truth must always be balanced with grace if it is not going to be harsh and hard. And it starts with us in an honest, non-defensive way that does not blame or throw stones but simply lives and speaks truth as a way of life.
A culture of authenticity and honesty carries over to organizational culture as well. I am familiar with many churches and Christian organizations where there is more airbrushed gloss than truth about what is really happening in the ministry. Problems are ignored or spiritualized, problem people are not dealt with, and ministry effectiveness or lack of it is not honestly looked at. It is always interesting to see a more authentic leader come into such situations and actually name things for what they are! It is a refreshing change for those who didn’t like the facade and a threatening change for those who did. Many Christian organizations are just waiting for such a leader who is transparent about their personal challenges and the challenges of the ministry they lead.
My transparency as a leader encourages others to be transparent as well. My honesty elicits honesty among others and it is transparent honest discussion that allows an organization to draw out the best rather than hide the worst. If you are not naturally very self-disclosing or transparent I would encourage you to take some small intentional steps toward greater transparency. You will be surprised at how powerful that small step is in how others respond to you and the impact on the group you work with. It will encourage you to continue to increase your personal level of self disclosure.
Such transparency takes a level of courage and self confidence. For three years, I have written a blog (LeadingFromTheSandbox.blogspot.com). At times, what I have written has been used by a few against me claiming that what I write there does not equal how the organization I lead actually operates. They are right but miss the point. In calling the organization to a higher level we intentionally create a gap between where we are and where we aspire to be. Our goal is then to close the gap – but a gap will always be present as we continue to call the organization to even higher levels of excellence. I am willing to take the hits from the cynical and the perfectionist, both of whom will complain about the gap. At least the conversation opens up important issues for dialogue and my self disclosure is deeply appreciated by the majority of the organization.
Authentic self disclosure is a significant element in developing trust with others and within an organization. Trust is based on understanding the thinking of leaders, of minimizing surprises where possible, and providing venues for dialogue around important issues. That starts with the self disclosure of a leader who is willing to put the cards on the table and then invite dialogue. Secretive leaders engender mistrust while self disclosing leaders build high trust.
There is another venue for transparency that makes a great difference in ministry organizations and that is transparency over schedules and work. Ministry roles, particularly in the church or in mission work can often be unstructured (not a good thing) and without much accountability to others. Two consequences of this are first a lack of intentionality in schedules and work and second a lack of trust and reliability by leaders who live by the seat of their pants.
Picture a pastor who makes his schedule on the run, does not keep his staff up to speed on his priorities or schedule, and changes direction on the whim of the moment. I have consulted in situations like that and the common complaint is that “We don’t know what he does.” That is a dangerous place for a leader to be because behind that observation is a trust issue. Lack of information breeds mistrust because lack of accountability breeds mistrust.
All senior leaders in our organization make their online calendars available to one another which means that there is information available on what each one is up to. In addition, most months I publish my schedule by day to my prayer team so they can be praying through the month – again transparency and accountability. My point is that transparency in all areas of life is healthy: it models openness, it shuns secretiveness which is dangerous and it is a life of ongoing accountability. Transparency and accountability go hand in hand.
For those in ministry transparency also applies to ministry results. There is a significant tendency and perhaps pressure to speak “evangelistically” about what God is actually doing and the results of our ministries. Truth and honesty are high priorities for people of deep influence. They tell what is not what they wish it was. Dishonesty about ministry results is incompatible with the God of truth. And since ministry fruit is his ultimate responsibility we can leave those results with him.
The key themes here are honesty, openness, transparency and a life of truth all of which are connected to accountability. All of these qualities engender trust and model healthy life practices. Those practices keep our own lives in safe waters as well and contribute to lives of deep influence.