‘Are you kidding me’? This is a contemporary favorite expression. A few years ago, I had an experience while travelling through a very busy airport. Various staff of one institution were wearing blue shirts inscribed with ‘how can I help you?’ The words sounded sweet and comforting. Airports are hotbeds for strain and stress so the offer of help was just what is needed for irate passengers.
The only difficulty was that the body language of many of the wearers communicated a total lack of interest in the passengers milling around. The look of insouciance did not invite any questions. It declared a determination not to be disturbed, and to ensure that any questioner understood enough not to harrass the wearers with enquiries, however minor. All I could think of is ‘are you kidding me?’ ‘So who put these people in those shirts?
Maybe the big idea was to get them to begin helping instead of increasing the discomfort of post ‘9:11’ travelling. But clearly, their internal paradigms were disparate and unconnected to what they were supposed to be doing externally. Since a person’s paradigm is not determined by the label they may place on their clothes, the result seemed to be a huge disconnect between the labels they carried and their expressions. So the invitation didn’t work. I noticed most passengers keeping the same wide berth that I kept. The label did not match the content of the bottle. And no one was tempted to drink.
Someone put it this way – ‘your attitude is speaking so loudly I cannot hear your words’. This is the burden of validity and acceptance in leadership. Leadership demands authenticity. And authenticity demands that we make every effort to align what we feel internally with what we are expressing outwardly. The result is integrity.
Without authentic compassion, beneficence, discipline, SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) activities calculated to achieve the vision, any size of tag and label is meaningless. Authenticity and integrity are the only means to effective and sustainable partnership for any jointly sought objective. Not words. No, not words.