That is what a wise man, my coach, said to me when we talked about grounded visionaries and what they need to succeed in creating the change they want. And indeed, a grounded visionary cannot be a compelling leader without the ability to create intimate relationships.
Upon reading the word intimacy, what happens for you? Are you intrigued, leaning in, curious? Or are you leaning back, tempted to click away this post? And what feelings does the word intimacy stir up in you in the context of work?
How much intimacy do you allow in your relationships at work?
How much intimacy do you seek in your so-called intimate relationship with your partner?
How much intimacy do you risk in your relationships with your best friends, your siblings, or your parents?
By now you might be asking yourself what I mean by intimacy, because from the contexts I have shared, you hopefully have deduced that I am not talking about sex. Let me explain what I am talking about: In any kind of relationship, intimacy is created in shared moments, where we show ourselves authentically and fully. It is a space of fully seeing someone or one another, without defence barriers. Many people don’t ever show themselves to anyone, anywhere, let alone in a professional context. It feels too vulnerable to them, and they lack the courage. It’s ironic: We all crave to fully see the other, but we all fear to be fully seen.
For some, vulnerability is sharing their most precious dream. Their biggest fear. Their failures. Their severe illness and the feelings that come with that.
Just to say “I don’t know how to do that” is a brave act of vulnerability in many workplaces. It can make people feel weak and “less than”, and therefore they are too anxious to admit to the fact. It takes courage to do so despite of the anxiety. What does any of this have to do with change leadership?
The lack of intimacy and resistance to change go hand in hand.
I would say that in many workplaces, it is indeed unsafe to admit to the “weakness” of feeling overwhelmed in the face of a task or a bigger change. However, when people are afraid to share their true reasons for not fully embracing that change, the conversation will never lead to uncovering what the resistance to change is all about. Instead, people will continue to resist change by finding excuses, by silently avoiding, or by blaming others for this that and the other. All of these expressions of resistance are simple acts of self-protection. When people are not up to something, they experience fear and self-protect. Pretty much everyone does that.But staying in self-protection mode creates deadlock – and the failure of many well intentioned change initiatives is testament to that. This leads us back to why this matters to the grounded visionary, the visionary leader who sees a brighter future and wants to inspire and engage others to co-create it.
A grounded visionary needs to be able to create intimate relationships, so that open conversations about what is really at stake for everyone can happen. And intimate relationship is forged through intimate conversations.
One way of creating intimacy through conversations is to assume the stance of a coach, or as we say when standing in the co-active leadership model: the stance of the leader behind. A coach does not go into problem solving, nor does she dive into an argument for or against something that the coachee presents with. Instead, she invests time into the relationship, is wildly curious about the person in front of her: How do they tick? What do they most value in life? What truly matters to them? What are their dreams, hopes and doubts? What’s underneath their goals and their challenges?
The grounded visionary must be able to create intimate relationships where people open up not just their hearts, but also their minds. Leading from heart and mind is needed to successfully transform an organisation, an industry, a community, a society.