Leadership P.A.I.N.: A is for Accept
In our last installment we explored the first element of process leadership pain: point out. Taking time to name the emotional pain inflicted on us gives us the power over it. When we have power of it, then we can tame it and deal with it in a healthy way. But what do we do after this?
Let me introduce the next element: A is for Accept. I realize that in most circles the idea of "acceptance" is equated with compromise or acquiescence but hear me out. Leadership pain is almost always caused by a person. That person is really a person. Not some automaton or inanimate object - the cause of our pain has flesh and blood, breathes air, and - pay attention - is created in the image of God. As leaders who seek to honor God in all we do this point can never be far from our mind and heart. So, let me offer some clarity by what I mean by the term accept.
Being a transformational leader is all about identifying inefficiencies or roadblocks then, through a shared process, creating pathways that facilitate change. This process begins by actually discovering where someone IS before we help them get where they are going, right? After all, how can someone become better until they recognize their own weaknesses. Well, this is true to an extent. As leaders of people trust is the most valuable commodity we trade in - every problem you have with someone can usually be traced to a lack of trust. But no one will trust you until they believe you see them for who they are - not just what they can be.
Think deeply about that statement in light of leadership pain. Sometimes pain arises because you and I have not taken the time to accept who the person in front of us is before we start diagnosing their defects and creating action plans. Until people know that you accept them where they are you have no opportunity to bring change into their lives. This does not infer that we condone sin or ignore character flaws. Instead, the posture of acceptance asks a more important and tougher question, "What has led this person to this place?"
In the business of leadership we are stuck on buzzwords like excellence. Sometimes we think that by "accepting" someone we are not pushing toward that standard. I hear it all the time. Let's be excellent. Let's do excellent work. Our core value is excellence. The problem is I rarely hear anyone define what they mean by excellence. As such, a vacuum is created that leaves the definition up to the individual. So excellence gets processed through the filters of people's experiences often resulting in impossible standards that can never be reached. And when these standards are not met - then hurt happens.
Unmet expectations make us angry and cause pain. But sometimes leaders fail to ask a vital question, does the person in front of us possess the capacity to meet our expectations where they are currently. That is why I have stopped defining excellence in terms of perfection. Instead, I define excellence as "doing the best with what you currently have."
This definition allows me to meet people where they are, ascertain their current capacities, and then celebrate any progress they make. Yes, expectations will evolve as the leader equips and empowers them to grow their capacity. If we constantly put people in a position to fail we actually bring pain upon ourselves and, in all honesty, lose the right to help them transform.
You and I have to examine our motivation for leading by asking a soul level question, "Do I see the person in front of me as tool to reach my vision or a person who I can help reach their own vision/purpose?" How you as a leader answer that question will determine how you deal with leadership pain. If they are just a tool to use then you will always have pain because you will measure loyalty by what's good for you. If you see them as a person there will still be pain but loyalty becomes about what's best for them.
Acceptance is looking at the person who caused you pain and saying, "I see you!" I see the pain you've experienced. I see how your pain causes you to lash out. I see the good in you and the struggles. But even with all that - I'm willing to stay right here, be honest, and walk with you toward different future.