Irish poet and marine zoologist David Whyte is my favorite writer about work. He glistens like the leaves of the aspen tree that sparkle in a wind, fed by roots that can be thousands of year old. He gets deep. On my radio show on Saturday he spoke with the magic of Irish-poet, defending drink and uplifting work. Jennifer said when I came home from the studio, “I just wanted to play him back over and over to get everything.”
One of the ideas that has grabbed Whyte and that he’s unfolding for us is the idea of “conversational leadership.” What a contrast with Tiger Woods in his tortured week. Tiger the icon. A conversation was clearly the last thing he wanted. Who could blame him? Who’d want to be that vulnerable? But, even before this, what would you talk to Tiger about anyway? His supernatural confidence? Who could relate to that? His billions? Rolex and Accenture love him precisely because he’s flawless, peerless, above conversation.
Whyte says one of the best things a leader can do is to be in conversation. Being in conversation allows people to be real, and allows the soul to live at work. And the key to a genuine conversation, Whyte says, is vulnerability. How does a boss generate that human and genuine an environment I asked, and he was all over it. He says it happens best when a leader says, “I don’t know.” Interesting to think that maybe those are the three most important words a leader can speak: I don’t know. Those words level the ground for our kids, co-workers, or those who report to us. They create room for dialogue and learning. They create space for others to lead. “I don’t know,” makes knowing important, but truth even more important.
Perhaps our fascination with the Tiger-perfect masks our deep hidden desire to be so great. But if it’s everyday greatness you want to show and enable in others, treat yourself or a fellow leader to The Three Marriages or The Heart Aroused by David Whyte or have a listen to this 12-minute interview from the first segment of my show this week. As you
Lead with your best self,
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