As we approach the celebration of Palm Sunday, I find it ironic that we are reading and discussing the concepts of vulnerability and leadership. The humility of Jesus as he rode a donkey wasn’t just a publicity stunt to influence and shape the story that was being written. He wasn’t trying to appear to be a man of the people or trying to be seen as a regular guy. Brene Brown said, “I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” 1 The contrast of Jesus on a the rode to Jerusalem and what we envision a leader, whether it be a CEO or our local Pastor, is quite different and should challenge us to seek the models in our lives that produce the leader we what to be.
It has gotten popular to talk about leaders that are approachable and down to earth. People want to love their leaders and have them strong yet understanding of the common person. China’s current leader has gone out of his way to relate with the working class by visiting farms, helping the poor, even being seen walking in the rain like a regular person 2 In a country started on revolution, finding and directing the story that mold the will of the people is crucial. I remember XiJinPing first took over and I heard many of my Chinese friend talk about his humble upbringing on a farm. They also talked about how he would meet and talk with people of the street, helping the old and informed when needed. They would point to pictures that were taken as proof of his “down-to-earth-ness” and relatability. Chinese desire to see their leaders as strong and willing to fight for what the people need. When the story that is being told falls in to the desire that the people want to hear, then it seems to validate some of the restrictions and alleviates some of the unknown fears of the future. The problem is true vulnerability and what Chinese see as necessary for a leader are usually diametrically opposed.
This last week I was talking with a lady that works in the governments health department. We were talking about the Confucius leadership hierarchal structures and how it influences the way that their boss leads. She explained that in her experience the boss was always right and it was her and her fellow employee’s responsibility to figure out what the boss wanted and how to accomplish it effectively . China is a high context society and that leads many times to employees needing to guess or read between the lines in order to understand what the boss, team leader, pastor or head of household is wanting. She also told me that in this type of setting no one will willingly volunteer to head some project up or stick their next out for fear that they then become the negative example or incur the leader’s wrath. However there is a build in “respect” within any group that if the leader, boss, pastor, family patriarch asks for something to be done, then one is obligated to do what is asked. In this context failure equates to shame. “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”3 Thus vulnerability is seen as weakness and indecisiveness with this country.
Leading my own teams in this Asian concepts of indirect communication and high context has its own challenge in terms of vulnerability. I have tried to model an openness to what I know and what I don’t in a way that leads others with different abilities than I to step up and use their gifts in ways that benefits the team as a whole. When dealing with both Chinese and Americans, trust and the willingness to be vulnerable is a learned experience. Heather Human says, “By being more vulnerable, the level of trust is higher and you are humanized to the people around you,” 4 Brown put is like this, “build a culture of trust.” 5 With a multi-cultural team there have been moments of misunderstanding and confusion. Some of this has to do with my desire for leadership development and the local Chinese’s desire to listen and obey the boss (in this case, me).
Brown also says, “The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear…[then later]You can’t fully grow and contribute behind armor.”6 My Chinese team have learn to watch, listen, and learn what my expectations are. It have been slow but worthwhile to see many of them move from fear of the boss to one of the team members. Trust, love, and my own vulnerability has helped remove some of the protective armor that kept them from initially engaging. I do not always enjoy being the leader. In fact there are many moments where I think following might be more enjoyable. This week I was reminded again that the investment we make into people do not always bear the result that we wanted. Although I might not have been happy with this latest set back, I know that my investment will not be wasted. Leading with love sounds like such a cliche, but is a great reminder of what was modeled for us and how we are to model for others.
1 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.
2 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/world/asia/xi-jinping-china-propaganda.html. accessed April 11, 2019
3 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.
4 Huhman, Heather. If You’re Not Willing to Be Vulnerable, Then Don’t Be a Leader. https://www.inc.com/heather-r-huhman/leaders-arent-superheroes-heres-why-you-need-to-show-vulnerability.html. accessed April 11, 2019
5 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.
6 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead : Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. Print.