Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Influence & Inspire through Imperfection & Inadequacy

Have you ever stared at yourself in the mirror, half-naked, for ninety minutes straight?

It’s painful.

Not physically. But emotionally and spiritually? MAN. It hurts like hell.

That’s why I love practicing yoga: There’s no escape.

No leaving the room. No averting your gaze. No shutting your eyes.

Just a forced confrontation with your physical truth – scars, stretch marks, badonkadonks and all.

And I think that’s part of the appeal. Yoga keeps you honest. Vulnerable. Human.

THE CHALLENGE IS: It’s easy to execute those virtues in a nice warm room with your cushy little yoga mat and nice cold bottle of Gatorade.

But when you get out into the real world, it’s not so easy...

Honesty, vulnerability and humanity threaten the status quo. And in our fear-based, trust-deficient and technology-governed culture, most people aren’t ready to handle that kind of attitudinal shift yet.

Which is a problem, because too many people are becoming alienated from their truth.

THEREFORE: Your duty as a leader is to wake people up by (first) waking yourself up.

You don’t even have practice yoga to do so. Staring at yourself in a mirror, half-naked, for ninety minutes straight isn’t the only doorway to authenticity.

The secret is to influence and inspire people THROUGH your imperfection and inadequacy, not in spite OF it.

Today we’re going to explore eleven ways to do so:

1. Acknowledge and embrace all aspects of who you are. That’s the first step – to admit your truths. The good, the bad AND the hideous. Whether you’re interacting with employees, clients, guests, attendees, colleagues, members, congregants, friends and students – even your own kids – the same universal principle applies.

My suggestion: The earlier, the better. Doing so builds a foundation of credibility and trust, plus it subconsciously grants other people permission to feel comfortable in their truth too. Remember: Living falsehoods is EXHAUSTING. How much extra energy would you conserve if you chose to honor your truth more often? Have you made the choice to take extreme care for your authentic selfhood?

2. Probe your darkness. If you dare, that is. If you’re willing to come face to face with the ugliness that is your Truth. If you’re willing to open the door to yourself and see who the hell you really are. If you’re willing to make friends with all aspects of yourself. Like my yoga instructor says, “Look at yourself in the mirror non-judgmentally. As a reflection and nothing else.”

That’s the next step in developing a working relationship with your screw-ups. It’s not easy but necessary; not fun but fundamental, and not comfortable but constructive. The good news is, once you open the door to your imperfect nature and remove that which blocks the path of truth, the selfhood on which you stand will support you. And you’ll live from the place where nobody can touch you. What shadowy parts of your life are you withholding? Have you made friends with all aspects of yourself? And do you have the courage and ability to show yourself as you truly are?

3. Recognize your shadow. You know that dark spot on your truth? That flawed corner of your character? Love it. Embrace it. Hell, even share it. It’s a crucial component to your humanity, and if you’re not willing to honor and own it, you’re just another chickenshit peddler of personal falsehood.

As Parker Palmer beautifully says, “We will become better not by trying to fill the potholes in our souls but by knowing them so well that we can avoid falling into them.” What potholes in your life are you avoiding? Have you met the darkness within yourself? And what would be the worst thing that could happen if you opened the door to your truth?

4. Be willing to talk about that shadow. You know, the stuff you’re terrified for people to know about you? Yep. It’s time for a Skeleton Party. (I’ll bring cake.) As Sidney Jourard explained in Self-Disclosure, “No man can come to know himself except as a outcome of disclosing himself to another person. Encounters help your to sharpen your sense of your own identity.”

SO: Embrace and endorse your weaknesses. Dare to convey your essence. You’ll establish your acceptance of the imperfect humanness of others. What’s more, when you talk about your darkness, you increase contact with your true self, and, ironically, shed light on what you (really) need to see. Do you have the guts and to show yourself off? When are you most true to yourself? And what are you afraid to know about yourself?

5. Acknowledge your slips. My favorite Nirvana lyric comes from the tune Lithium, where Cobain hauntingly sang, “I’m so ugly, but that’s OK cause so are you.” So, the takeaway is: You’re not perfect. Nobody is. Which, in a sort of Zen way, means that EVERYONE is perfect.

That brings me back to another element of yoga: It transcends body style. No airbrushing allowed. Walk into any studio around the world an you’ll immediately notice the diversity: Fat people, skinny people; big boobs, small boobs; muscular butts, saggy butts.

And that’s just the men.

Here’s what I’ve observed: The people who come off as too perfect and too disciplined and “too” anything are either annoying or lying. What’s worse, when you’re perceived as TOO good, TOO perfect, TOO calculated, TOO impressive, TOO good looking, TOO whatever – people start to wonder. They also start to question. “Is this guy for real?” “How can I compare to that?” “Who’s supposed to relate to this?”

Remember: If people are too busy questioning you; that means they’re not listening to you. On other hand, when you have the self-confidence to acknowledge your slips, you become kind of person people listen TO and are inspired BY. Are you too perfect? Is your suffering too glorious and therefore unrelatable? And do you listen to the way you speak to yourself when you make mistakes?

6. Lead with vulnerability. The willingness to admit that you’re shaking in your sandals instantly humanizes you. Contrary to popular conditioning, vulnerability is attractive. Vulnerability is approachable. Vulnerability is strength.

And, when you have the courage and candor to integrate that openness into your daily conversations, two things happen: (1) you grant people permission to disclose their own vulnerabilities, and (2) they will respond to, and have more respect for you. Remember: Yikes leads to YES. Are someone others can be vulnerable in front of? Do you give people permission to be imperfect? And how are you turning vulnerability into profitability?

7. Practice self-disclosing weaknesses. Look, incompleteness and imperfection are part of life. The secret is learning to be honest about your inadequacies. When you do this, it increases your credibility. That’s what’s great about the yoga mirror. It’s terrifying and difficult for many to see, but it’s great practice with non-judgmental acceptance for all.

The cool part is, the more often you practice being honest with YOURSELF about yourself – yoga or no yoga – the more often you can do so with others. The challenge, of course, is first being courageous enough to look squarely at your own screw-ups, imperfection and vulnerabilities. What’s your system for practicing constant self-confrontation? When was the last time you sat uninterrupted and quiet with just your thoughts?

8. Practice radical honesty. Honesty is much more than simply “not telling a lie.” Honesty is about telling THEE truth, honoring YOUR truth and respecting OTHER PEOPLE’S truth. My suggestion: Start by being microscopically truthful. That’s where honesty shines the brightest. In those little moments where lying would probably be easier and quicker.

Next, try trading honesty for being right. Be willing to look like a complete and inconsistent idiot to practice what Gandhi called “living as close to truth as possible.” People will listen. People will follow. Are you terminally unique? Is your honesty perceived as being self-righteous? And are you really committed, or are you just trying to avoid cognitive dissonance?

9. Practice self-deprecating humor. Few practices of expressing your imperfection are more effective than making fun of yourself. Personally, I do this on a daily basis. Mainly because I have oceans of material.

And what I’ve learned is, self-deprecating humor neutralizes conflict. It makes others want to be around you. It's a key indicator of emotional intelligence. It defuses an otherwise tense or difficult situation. It combines modesty and likeability, while at the same time demonstrating that confidence and self-assurance. Ultimately, when you own (and share) your truth, nothing in the world is viewed as a threat to your sense of self. What a relief! How seriously do you take yourself? Are you the butt of your own jokes? And when was the last time you one-downed somebody?

10. Practice integrating your humanity into your role. I suggest you learn to communicate less perfectly. Eloquence comes (not) from flawlessness but from communicating your Truth in a way that’s relatable, digestible and influential. See, unless you regularly exert your ordinariness, people wall have a hard time spotting your humanity.

There’s a balance. It’s between being admirable; yet relatable. Not being utterly boring; yet not being terminally unique. For more examples of this leadership practice, check out this handy guide to becoming a human being. Are you a robot? How well do you merge ordinariness with remarkability? When does the feeling of formality keep you from communicating freely and honestly?

11. Reduce the distance. Ultimately, approachability means, “to come nearer to.” So, your challenge is to narrow the gap. To melt away the layers that clog, contaminate or close off the communication channels between you and … whoever.

Suggestion: Stop thinking OF – or presenting yourself AS – better, smarter or cooler than the people you lead. You will lose. People are inspired and influenced by those who are grounded. It is a person’s faults that make her likable. Does your life take place in the opening or the closing? How naked are you willing to be? And how are you leveraging your vulnerabilities to gain people’s trust?

OK! Quick summary of the eleven ways to influence and inspire through imperfection and inadequacy:

1. Acknowledge and embrace all aspects of who you are.
2. Probe your darkness.
3. Recognize and visit your shadow.
4. Be willing to talk about that shadow.
5. Acknowledge your slips.
6. Lead with vulnerability.
7. Practice radical honesty.
8. Practice self-deprecating humor.
9. Practice self-disclosing weaknesses.
10. Practice integrating your humanity into your leadership role.
11. Reduce the distance.

As we finish up, I’d like to share a lyric from another one of my favorite songwriters, Glen Phillips. In the song, I Still Love You, he sings the following:

“I've seen the dark spot on your soul. I've felt you cruel. I've held you cold. I know the parts of you that you don't think you show. But I still love you.”

REMEMBER: You will influence & inspire people (not) in spite of, but because of your imperfection & inadequacy.

That’s your responsibility as a leader: To wake people up.

And it starts with waking YOURSELF up first.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my orange spandex out of the dryer and head over to the yoga studio.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Is your perfection repelling people?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
For the list called, "23 Ways to Bring More of Yourself to Any Situation," send an email to me, and I'll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!