This struck me when I read the transcript of a talk given by Niki Vincent, CEO of the Leaders Institute of SA at a TED talk in Adelaide recently and discussed in an article in the Advertiser on Australia Day. (http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/business/sa-business-journal/leaders-institute-of-south-australia-ceo-niki-vincent-a-resilient-battler-and-leader/story-e6fredel-1226561907272).
I’ve known Niki for six years and always marveled at her immaculate professional demeanor which is matched only by her outstanding skills as a leader of leaders. So when I read her very personal account of her background, including sexual assault at 12, enduring the court case that followed, being kicked out of home, anorexia, marriage at 18, mother of four by 25, divorce, losing her home in a fire, seriously ill children and somehow gaining a degree in Psychology, a University Medal, and several important career roles, my eyes filled with tears and my heart nearly burst. Suddenly Niki became not only a respected colleague but a much loved and truly admired whole human being. I immediately invited her to lunch, something I’ve not done before and probably would never have done, had I not suddenly recognized another less-than perfect person who admitted to a flaw or two. Nothing bonds people faster than the intimacy of recognition.
It takes enormous courage to show the world who we truly are but the benefits are so worth the risk. It allows others to be real with us, to drop their facades and defenses and show us their humanity. Only then, can we communicate in meaningful rather than superficial ways which is fundamental to relating to and connecting with others. Only then can the rich collaboration occur that stems from mutual trust.
It also allows us to accept our imperfections and embrace our flaws. I see so many people struggling to be perfect. I love the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem, especially these lines:
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
I learned a valuable lesson some years ago from a friend, Marcelle, with whom I was attempting a very exacting role I had never done before. With little time to prepare, I confessed to having no idea of what I was doing. Debriefing later, Marcelle said “I’ve never seen you as free and alive as you were when you had no idea what you were doing. You could try having no idea more often”.
Now there’s a confronting piece of advice for a perfectionist! But I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve allowed myself ever since to let go, little by little, the notion that I have to be perfect at everything I do. What a relief.
It’s always easier to see other people’s flaws and insecurities than our own. That’s why having a mentor or coach is a gift; someone you can trust to shine a light on your blind-spots (we all have those too!) and support you to identify, accept and, ultimately to express your own humanity. The rewards are the very stuff of great leadership – the ability to trust, respect and really connect with others.