Belinda, one of the clients I serve, landed the job of school principal last year. She was so excited to share the news, it was her first principal role and she was ready to go! Whilst she hadn’t worked at the school before, she knew of it and had heard it was a ‘hard school’. That reputation strengthened Belinda’s determination to make a difference, to create a high performing team and as a result, to change the way the school was viewed and talked about in the community.
Over the first couple of months she was warmly welcomed by the students, the families and the staff. Well, almost all of them. There was a small but powerful bunch of parents and staff whose behaviour was just short of openly hostile.
Belinda had worked hard to get clear about the leader she wanted to show up as. She was dedicated to being guided by her values and vision, feedback and emotional intelligence in order to show up as her best self each day.
But a hostile crowd is nerve-wracking, and hostility can spread like a toxin throughout the organisation. Not to mention that Belinda is a real, imperfect human, just like you and me, and we humans don’t want to feel unliked, rejected or ostracised.
At the end of one particularly brutal day, Belinda was questioning herself and questioning what she had signed up for. She was in a tough, tense and uncomfortable spot.
Parker Palmer calls this tough, tense and uncomfortable spot the ‘Tragic Gap, the place between what is and what could be’.
As leaders, we stand in that Tragic Gap day after day.
In fact, I believe that being an authentic leader is standing in The Gap, if through your actions and words, you are courageously declaring that you want to serve and want to help create a better place but that you can’t do it alone, you don’t have all the answers, and you can’t do it perfectly.
Palmer says ‘We need the inner strength to hold both the reality and our hope at the same time’
The challenge for Belinda was to hold her ground, her vision, her boundaries and hope, and believe in her team and herself as leader. It was hard.
Belinda was in what Brene Brown calls The Wilderness, ‘…the place where we must sometimes stand alone in our decisions and beliefs despite our fear of criticism and rejection’.
In becoming the best humans and best leaders we can be, we must be prepared to stand in the tragic gap and to ‘Brave the wilderness’.
As humans we don’t want to take a risk and not have the answers
Standing in that gap is painful! As humans we don’t want to be alone. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We don’t want to take a risk and not have the answers. But what’s the alternative? To be a leader who only chooses safe places to stand and lead from? That’s not the leader I want to be or be led by.
So what about Belinda? Well I’m delighted to report that she flourishes! She has built trust with her team and trust in herself.
But of course, Belinda is not ‘done’ now, she hasn’t reached some idealistic sense of leadership perfection. No, Belinda continues to bravely stand in that gap every day. She is a reflective, imperfect human and leader and she knows that her team are imperfect humans too. And that’s the type of courageous leader I do want to be and to be inspired by.