Gatekeeper or Guide?
Often times as leaders we are haunted by the specter of failure. We must always be perfect. We must always do well. Our reputation, our integrity, our honor, our self image are all bound up in our ability to get the job done. That is how we have gotten to where we are. People know that we are dependable. If you need something done then call (insert your name here).
Because of this attachment of our self worth to our actions, to our results, and in many ways to our “perfection,” we begin to get a skewed sense of reality. Though we are acutely aware of all of our mistakes, we are under the mistaken impression that those others who praise us for our accomplishments are not. We make the assumption that, “if they knew how much I messed up, they would not think so highly of me.” And therefore, we continue to push ourselves harder and harder to eliminate all errors.
This works well for us during our ascent up the success ladder. As individual performers, we become the cream that rises to the top. As professionals, we become the sought after. As specialists, we become pre-eminent in our field. And that might be ok, if that is where the story ended.
However, the next chapter of the story usually begins with us being promoted to leadership and given a group of other people to lead. And this group generally has a number of people with different idiosyncrasies than we have...people who see the world differently than we do. And so we begin trying to change them into us. And this is hard, grueling, time consuming work. And eventually, we get some of them through the process, but the majority fall out. We are ok with this however, as we believe that there is only enough room for a few. Essentially we begin to see our role as the gatekeeper, only letting the worthy through to the next level.
And this is a problem. Leadership is not a weeding out process. We are not gatekeepers, only letting through those who are worthy. Leadership is about transmitting skills and tools to others so that they can manifest the greatness that is within them in the most efficient and effective way possible. Leadership is about facilitation, not evaluation.
Therefore, I would like to propose to you that we consider this whole process in a new light. I would like to posit that there is no honor, glory, or righteousness in hard work for the sake of hard work. I would like you instead to focus on the process of learning and the long-term results of the work.
I would also like you to rethink that conversation that we have within ourselves so often. What I call The Imposter Syndrome convo. Instead of assuming that people don’t see your flaws, accept the fact that they see your flaws and still think it’s awesome anyway. Accept that though they saw the errors in what you did, it was still way better than what others could do, or what was expected. Accept that you are exceptional, not because you are perfect, but because you make mistakes but still perform at such a high level. Accept that people understand that you are a work in progress and that is enough.
What people admire is your resilience, your ability to overcome the mistakes and still perform like a champion. And that is cause for rejoicing. In his devotional book, Life Promises for Leaders, the leader’s leader and the motivator’s motivator, Zig Ziglar explains how we should not seek perfection and we should recognize that we have much still to learn on this journey we call life.
As we begin to lead others, we have to realize that our most important role is to build their resiliency, their ability to bounce back. The first step to that is to remove the false narrative from their minds that we got where we are by being perfect and never falling down. Instead the thing that will be most helpful for them is to reassure them that we too have fallen short and not performed to our potential. We walk with them down the path of self mastery and we help them to see from a perspective that they would not have had on their own.
In this way we ensure that we remove ourselves from the gatekeeper role and instead become a guide. The guide takes pride in the fact that they get all of their charges to the destination, whereas the gatekeeper prides themselves on how many they keep out. Which type of leader will you be?
About This Contributor
Your instructions are clear. Your timelines are reasonable. But still, tasks that should take 3-4 days to complete seem to take your team 3-4 weeks. Unless you are personally making it happen, checking on every detail, they just don’t seem able to perform to your needs. Managing a team this way is not sustainable, physically, or financially. At this rate, it’s not a question of “if” you will burnout, but “when.”