April | The Glorious Messiness of Being Human

“The messiness of humanity is what gives us our humanity. Without it, we would be nothing but machines.” ~Anne Lamott, author & activist

Leadership can be a messy business. As leaders, we are tasked with guiding others, making tough decisions, and navigating through uncertainty. Working with leaders in technology, I see a regularly occurring pattern: when faced with a people problem, there is a desire to gather more and more data in the hope of arriving at a single, definitive answer to reduce or even eliminate the uncertainty. To solve the problem. As uncertainty increases, the desire for more data grows.

As a coach, I see this pattern in others; as a leader, I see this pattern in myself.

I LOVE problem-solving. And I value accurate data. It’s key to uncovering objective insights into complex situations, allowing me to identify patterns, trends, and correlations and to make informed decisions. A data-driven approach is particularly alluring when I’m faced with a complex human situation — such as a disengaged team or an organization struggling with conflicting values, where emotions and biases may often cloud their, and my, judgement. And, as someone who’s often the expert at the front of the room, there’s an expectation or pressure (from others and within myself) to have all the answers.

But here’s the thing about messy humans. I am one! You are one! We are fallible, and we make mistakes. Sometimes there isn’t enough or the right type of data or the time to gather it. We don’t have all the answers.

So how do I reconcile these things: my desire to solve problems; my understanding of just how variable humans can be; and the knowledge that I am a messy human who isn’t going to have all the answers? How do I sit with that yet still be able to guide others, navigate uncertainty and make the hard decisions? How do I be an effective leader?

A few years ago, at a time in my life when I was particularly full of self-doubt about my leadership capabilities, my coach offered me a possibility: vulnerability.

What does it mean to be vulnerable? Being honest with ourselves and others when we don’t know the answer, asking for help when we need it, leaning into uncertainty, getting comfortable with making decisions without all the data, and being willing to take risks. Easy, right? Noooo!

I started being vulnerable with myself by taking baby steps, journaling my thoughts, reflecting on my day and the decisions I’d made and how I’d made them. When I grew a little braver, I started to actively lean into uncertainty rather than trying to eliminate it in the moment. It was (who am I kidding?! it still is) scary — sweaty palms, prickly skin, loud inner monologue SCARY. But here’s the thing I noticed: people appreciated it. And over time, that appreciation grew into deeper trust.

If you’re a leader in tech, I’d offer that vulnerability is especially important to you. Leading in uncertain times means embracing vulnerability. As Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” As new technologies emerge and market conditions change, you’re constantly working to adapt and make course corrections along the way. This means being open to feedback, being willing to take risks, and being comfortable with ambiguity.

While technology can help us achieve great things, including deriving intelligence from data to help us make decisions, it is the people behind the technology who make it all happen. As leaders, we must remember that people — our teams — are made up of human beings with all their quirks and imperfections. By embracing the messiness, we can create more authentic and meaningful connections with our team members and ultimately achieve greater success

How to navigate our human messiness?

Be willing to take risks, admit mistakes, and be open to feedback. Know that vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength. It’s a strength you can use to build trust and create a culture of authenticity and accountability. Who amongst all us messy humans doesn’t want that?!

Journal Prompts

  • What are some experiences in your life that have made you feel vulnerable? How have these experiences shaped your leadership style?
  • How do you typically respond to situations that make you feel vulnerable as a leader?
  • What are some ways you can practice vulnerability outside of work? How might these experiences translate to your leadership style?

What’s on Repeat

Songs we can’t get enough of:

Today’s edition of the L@S Newsletter was written by our newest team member, Cat Hawkins. Cat is a professional coach, formerly an IT architect and leader of technology teams. She has a passion for words and loves to consider different perspectives in life and leadership. Cat works with people to better understand their core values and beliefs, striving for integration of the personal and professional self. She has lived and worked in the UK, Australia and Canada and has yet to come up with a definitive answer to the question, “So where do you call home?”

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