Leadership Tensions: Transparency vs. Vulnerability

Old school leadership taught us to be stoic.  Hierarchy was important and being vulnerable with those subordinate to you was discouraged as poor leadership.

Modern leadership thought speaks more of love and the power of relationships, as evidenced by the best-selling book Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders.

In old school leadership, the words transparency and vulnerability would be taboo.  “Never let them see you sweat” is the understood mantra.

Modern leadership suggests that transparency and vulnerability are good.  That openness and sensitivity go a long way in developing trust and winning influence with those you lead.

So what does that look like?  And what are the boundaries – if there are any – to how far you go?  That’s the leadership tension we’re facing today.

For a bit of clarification, I consulted Merriam-Webster for the definition of both words:

Transparent – readily understood; free from pretense or deceit

Vulnerable – capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage

After reading those two definitions, I would be quick to say that I would prefer to be transparent rather than vulnerable.  However, Brene Brown (one of my favorite authors) interpreted the definition of vulnerable this way in a recent Fast Company interview, “Vulnerability is simply defined as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”  She goes on to say, “And if you are alive and in relationship, you do vulnerability. If you are alive and in relationship and in business, you do it hourly.”

She claims that businesses can not serve their mission and reach their goals without relationship and that “vulnerability is the glue that binds relationships together.”

In an age where relationships are our currency for getting things accomplished, Brown’s interpretation makes a solid case for the value of vulnerability.

So what about transparency?

Readily understood; free from pretense and deceit.

Whereas vulnerability is a willingness to take risks, to make our ideas known and to engage with others in the process.  Transparency is opening our heart, admitting our fears and acknowledging our past failures.

In my interpretation, vulnerability is something that you commit to when you commit to a relationship with another – whether co-worker, boss, employee, friend, or spouse.  A level of vulnerability must be immediately embraced in order to develop the relationship that will allow you to move forward as a team.  Transparency on the other hand is a slower, discerning choice.  While I’ll be vulnerable to share my ideas and thoughts as it relates to our present relationship, I will be slower to be transparent with the deeper places of my heart.  Those layers are shared over time and as trust is built.

The leadership tension of Transparency vs. Vulnerability is not as much an either-or scenario, but more of timing and discernment.

While a level of vulnerability is important for all healthy working relationships, transparency is more selectively shared in trusting relationships.

Every engagement you have as a leader will have a different ratio of transparency to vulnerability.

A danger sign exists when you’re unwilling to engage either of them.

Where have you experienced good transparency or vulnerability?

Where have you seen transparency or vulnerability go awry?


Repost: The Leadership Wall

Every once in awhile,

especially in busy seasons of life or ministry,

I hit the wall.

Know what I’m talking about?

I know I’ve hit the wall when:

  • I’ve reached my compliant quota.  When one more complaint, question or criticism will put me over the edge.
  • Questions become personal attacks.  A simple question for clarity feels like a personal attack on my judgment or character.
  • The idea of being with people stresses me out.

I don’t think it’s unusual for leaders to hit the wall.  Leadership is relational.  Leaders are required to speak into many decisions, problems, concerns, etc.  In fact leaders typically deal with the toughest, most emotionally challenging issues within the organization.

But as leaders we have to be aware of when we’re about to hit this wall and we have to take steps to put on the brakes before we crash into it.

When I see the wall closing in on me, I need to:

1) Evaluate my emotional and spiritual health.  Great leaders are healthy leaders.  Don’t convince yourself your superman/woman.  Take time for rest and rejuvenation.  And most importantly take time with God.

2) Rework my schedule.  Where have I over-committed?  What can I change, move or cancel?  What can I delegate to someone else?  Everything on my schedule becomes open for discussion.

3) Stop.  Literally stop for time enough to think.  When the wall is closing in on me and I’m running at a break-neck speed, I can’t think clearly enough to make good decisions.  Make a pit stop and regroup your thoughts.  Fresh perspective often comes with a strategic pause.

4) Seek counsel.  Who knows you well enough to speak truthfully about your strengths and weaknesses, priorities and dysfunctions as a leader?  You need to invite their voice into your current season.  They just might be the emergency brake that saves you from a crash.

How do you buffer yourself from hitting the wall?

Leadership Tensions: Intentionality vs. Trust

This might be one of the greatest tensions I personally face as a leader.

Even since I wrote the original list in the series opener, I’ve changed the wording of this tension:

Intensity vs. Passivity

Intensity vs. Intentionality

Intentionality vs. Passivity

Intentionality vs. Whimsy

I landed on Intentionality vs. Trust

I think this tension must be one that a driven achiever most wrestles with.  The drive to constantly accomplish keeps me on the intensity and intentionality side.  I wrestle when I hear messages that convey a more free-spirited nature.

My Grandma, more affectionately know as ‘Nanny’, used to sing a song to me when I was a kid.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

I’m guessing she sang that to me because even at a young age I displayed an intensity and level of focus that was just plain stressful!

There have been points where I’ve wondered if this driven, focused, intense part of myself was simply wrong.  However I could never be quite settled with that because the positive sides of it reflected some elements of God-given gifts and my unique identity.  The tension is employed when my intentionality wrestles with my faith and trust in God.

Sarah Young said it this way in Jesus Calling, “Rather than planning and evaluating, practice trusting and thanking Me continually.”

When I read things like that I’m tempted to believe that I have to throw out all my planning and evaluating.  But that would be abandoning the tension rather than wrestling through it.

For those of us who wrestle with the tension of intentionality vs. trust, we have to position ourselves to trust first.  When a large project or challenge is looming, my nature is to run to organize and structure it – to essentially create the illusion of control.

The better way to wrestle with this tension is to first take it to God in prayer.  Trusting that first bringing it to him will provide the direction that we need.  It’s choosing to release control to him and then using the gifts he’s given us to intentionally work through the challenge.

I used to think that trust meant abdicating any responsibility.  But I really believe trust means choosing God first.

What does Intentionality vs. Trust mean to you?


The Language of a Leader

Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.  -  Ronald Reagan

This is one of my favorite quotes from a President.  It’s the language of a leader.

Last night I was able to catch a few minutes of the Presidential debate in the airport between flights.  As I watch the debates over the next few weeks, I’m listening less to the issues and more for the language of a leader.

Last night, which candidate “appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts”?

Cross Point Celebrate’s 10 Years

It’s unbelievable to me that Cross Point is celebrating 10 years as a church.

I remember well the Sunday we launched at Gower Elementary.  Can anyone guess where I served that day?

10 years later I think the vision burns stronger than ever.

I don’t know that any of us from that launch team would have predicted where God would take us in these 10 years.  The memories are precious.  But I’m grateful that while we celebrate memories we still live with an eagerness for what is yet to come.

On Sunday, October 21st we’ll be celebrating 10 years with all Cross Point attendees from all of our campuses in one location.

It’s gonna be incredible!

Here are all the details:

What’s your favorite memory from Cross Point?  Share with us here in the comments. 

Leadership Tensions: Excellence vs. Perfection

This one causes plenty of spats within the church leadership culture.

Are we stifling God’s Spirit because we’re planning every minute of the service?

Are we dismissing someone’s God-given gift because we don’t think it’s good enough?

Lots of questions with polarizing responses.

Excellence vs. Perfection is a real leadership tension that leaders face, especially ministry leaders.

How do we give our best to God while also being sensitive to how God is leading us?

How do we lead others to give their best while also being sensitive to how God may be growing them?

I believe the answer is found in a very subtle distinction:

Excellence is an attitude. 

Perfection is a response.

Excellence is a desire to give your best all the time.

Perfection is a response to the fear of not being good enough.

In both cases we’re aiming to please someone, but from entirely different motives.

Excellence flows out of a desire to give, perfection flows from a fear of something being taken.

The perfectionist is grasping for ways to earn approval.

The person pursuing excellence is offering their best to others and to God.

The activities will often look the same from the outside, but it’s the motivation that creates the subtle distinction.

As a leader, be tuned into what motivates you and your team.  Is your team giving their best as an act of service or a response to fear?

Look for opportunities to teach and reward the difference.

What’s your heart pursuing… excellence or perfection?

This Ordinary Adventure

POST UPDATE: This giveaway has ended.  Congrats to Amanda M. who won the free copy!


I’m very intrigued by Christine & Adam Jeske’s new book This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling.

In This Ordinary Adventure Adam and Christine Jeske mine their experiences, from riding motorcycles across Africa to dicing celery in Wisconsin, in search of the God who is always present, charging each day with potential.  In reading about their wrestling, you’ll see your life – your ruts and routines, your frustrations and exhilarations – through different eyes.  Maybe settling down doesn’t have to mean you settle for anything less than Amazing Days.

Admittedly I have not read it yet but they are starting this really great initiative for the month of October called “31 Amazing Days” and I didn’t want you to miss it.  The point is to notice or do something amazing every day for 31 days.

Sounds like a great idea to me!

Learn more about Adam & Christine, the book and “31 Amazing Days” HERE.

By the way, I’ve got a copy of their book to giveaway!  To enter to win, tell me something ordinary that you find gets in the way of enjoying an amazing day every day. 
(I’ll randomly choose the winner Wednesday, 10/3 at Noon CST)

Do You Want to be a Headline or a History-Maker?

Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same.  If you are too attentive to the former, you will most certainly not do the hard work of securing the latter.”  Condoleezza Rice from No Higher Honor

Sometimes I long for an age where a leader’s bad day or poor decision doesn’t become instant twitter chatter or prime time news.

I wonder if because of the immediacy of praise or criticism, we make decisions for the short term rather than the long haul?

What if today’s unpopular decisions are actually heroic when history retells the story?

I repeatedly challenge myself with the thought, “an uncomfortable decision today may save me from making a very painful decision in the future.”

What if you didn’t feel the pressure of the immediate press or popularity?  How would it affect your decision making?

Do you want to be a headline or a history-maker?


Leadership Tensions – New Series

Leaders live in a constant state of tension. 

They live between what is and what could be.  They straddle the known and the unknown.  They wrestle the probable with the possible.  They balance status quo with innovation.

They have to understand where we are and yet convince us it’s worth taking the next step.

There are numerous tensions great leaders navigate each and every day.  And living with these tensions is a tension in and of itself.  This constant tug and pull stretches you to either expand and grow or to snap under the stress.

These tensions of leadership fascinate me.  Well, really they frustrate me.  But in studying that frustration, I’ve learned that identifying and naming these tensions allows me to see them as part of  my leadership growth rather than a nuisance to avoid.  I don’t think the tensions ever go away.  Leading through these tensions is at the heart of what we do as leaders.  It’s the essence of my “grey leadership theory”.

So for the next several weeks, we’ll discuss a specific leadership tension each Monday.

Here are some that I have on my list:

  • Excellence vs. Perfection
  • Intentionality/intensity vs. Passivity
  • Tender vs. Tenacious
  • Ownership vs. Stewardship
  • Ambition vs. Self-control
  • Who vs. What (in hiring)
  • Criticism vs. Coaching
  • Policies vs. Filters
  • Transparency vs. Vulnerability
  • Fans vs. Followers
  • Head vs. Heart
  • Communication vs. Bureaucracy
  • Ownership vs. Control
  • Independence vs. Co-dependence

What leadership tensions are you facing?  Let’s add them to the list!

Learning vs. Doing

I’ve always been pretty studious.  I love to learn, love to read, love to go to classes, etc.  Oftentimes I find that I am slow to act because I need to feel confident that I know exactly how to do something before I actually do it.

Learning vs. Doing is a constant tension that I wrestle with as a leader.

As a leader, you constantly find yourself facing new challenges.  In order to grow with your growing organization, you may have to:

  • Be willing to jump into projects that you’ve never done before
  • Take leadership of a department that you’ve never worked in
  • Navigate relationship circles that you’ve never been exposed to
  • Solve problems you’ve never experienced

In each of these situations, you will find yourself wrestling with the need to learn how to do it and the need to move quickly.  Some of us are prone to get bogged down in study and analysis and don’t act quickly enough.  Others of us are too quick to react and don’t analyze the situation enough first.

Where do you typically land?  Are you slow to study or quick to act?

What new tension are you facing right now as a leader?  How could you more adequately balance ‘learning vs. doing’?