Achilles heels and body armour

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Earlier this week, I facilitated a conference session at which I’d also coached one of the in-house speakers.  The speaker in question took one major step out of his comfort zone in finishing his speech on a different note.

In a review of the year, he talked about things achieved, awarenesses gained and solutions delivered.  But he chose to end by talking about a comment made to him by one of his political stakeholders – and the effect he’d allowed it to have on his thinking by not dismissing it out of hand, although that would have been an easy response to make.

Further, he explained, he had no answer to the problems the comment posed.  It wasn’t simple or easy; there was no evident solution; there was no tangible problem to be resolved.  But allowing that uncertainty and change in thinking was a huge shift for an organisation that works, like most, on providing answers and clarity.

At a personal level – and in many ways more important for the organisational culture – he allowed himself to be vulnerable, taking off the body armour and revealing, if not an Achilles heel, at least a weak spot.

Senior managers are expected to have answers, they have the background and thinking to reach decisions.  To say “I don’t know” is a huge step.

And modelling vulnerability and uncertainty in any organisation is critical in complex environments.  By their very definition, they are unpredictable and managers that can not only predict the problems that will emerge from complex environments but also predict the solutions create a false sense of security – and those around them come to expect that actions without risk are the best way forward.

Vulnerability is good.