I’ve been thinking lately about our expectations on CEOs and leaders generally. Having a variety of different roles, as an investor, director and consultant, I’ve had the privilege of observing leadership dynamics over a long period of time.

I was thinking about this yesterday when reflecting upon something I saw at a board meeting I attended. The organization in question is focused on growing the social enterprise sector in New Zealand. As such, it is not unlike a startup in the commercial space and, like every startup known to personkind, this organization works in a rapidly changing and high-pressure environment. There’s nothing new there.

What was different is that, through a combination of factors, the board members present and the CEO of the organization did something unusual in that they jointly and almost imperceptibly gave permission and encouragement for some raw truths to come out.

Emotions bubbled, eyes got misty and some very heartfelt things were said and, at the end of it, a more cohesive board and one which truly shared the journey ahead walked out. I’m reminded of an old Maori proverb which says:

He waka eke noa – A canoe which we are all in with no exception

Or, to put it more succinctly for this conversation, we’re all in this together.

Unfortunately, a trait of the traditional models of leadership is that permission to display emotion and admit frailty is not only not tacitly given, but it’s also actively frowned upon. We have this culture of the superhero leader and any signs of human weakness are deemed to damage that image. The fact that it’s simply not natural to have no weaknesses, never have doubt or to not need guidance seems to be forgotten.

So my question is for the leaders out there – be they board members or managers: what are you doing to create a culture in which those who work for and with you can show weakness and feel empowered to ask for help?

Remember, as the saying goes, we’re all in this together

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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