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Leading from a position of imperfection

In this month’s Queensland Young Water Professions (YWP) feature article, Courtney Thierry, Chair of the Queensland YWP Committee, draws an association between imperfection and development to bring attention to a key component of leadership. 

The theme for this month’s edition is ‘Thirst for action’, of which no other theme would align as closely with the way I seem to live my life.

So, I decided to highlight a recent encounter with my imperfections, and how it led to the awareness of a critical leadership tool. Feel free to reflect on your own experiences as you read on, and I welcome you to contact me or share about yours when we can eventually be in the same room.

I failed, what now?

I recently had the ‘pleasure’ of being the deliverer of bad judgement in a work situation. The situation escalated a lot faster than it needed to, and it could have been resolved by first having an open conversation. I wasn’t fully aware of this predicament until the person on the receiving end graciously brought to my attention how disappointed they were about the way that I handled the situation. Ouch.

Failure feedback can be a blow to one’s ego, or it can be a seen as a gift, given for the benefit of the receiver. I deliberated over the feedback in private and decided to move forward.

Accepting feedback is equally as important as giving it. Accepting that we will fail many times in life and that self-moderation will never be complete until we are six feet under, I think, turns failures into opportunities. I’m sure many will agree with me that well-delivered failure feedback adds to the blueprint for true self-reflection and self-development.

I thanked that person for their feedback, and although they may not realise it, that lesson will stay with me for a long time and I aim to draw on the experience in future situations. I quickly realised that dialogue like this is very necessary in my life and that I could spend my entire lifetime working on this skill.

Conversation, conversation, conversation

I watched a conversation between two people, following a conflict involving an African American man's mistreatment while in the custody of correctional officers. I noted a few important things about conversation in general:

  • Conversations are necessary
  • We’ve lost the art of conversation in place of clicks and comments
  • We must challenge ourselves and our perspectives
  • Don’t temper emotions to quell another’s discomfort
  • Allow each person to have an emotional ‘human moment’
  • Don’t let the pain of the moment stop you from moving forward
  • Be okay with conversations without shredding each other’s humanity

Similarly, the IWA/AWA Australia-New Zealand YWP Conference in March 2020 also highlighted that young professionals want (and in fact need) the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what happens in our industry.

Truth isn’t just the technical, rigid facts about the water industry (although they are necessary), but also the raw, human stories embedded within our industry. During this conference, we all quickly realised that it was possible to have open, truthful, respectful conversations to expose these raw human experiences among colleagues. The personal testimonies at the conference created deep connections among the delegates and a pride in the water industry (on a level that I haven’t seen in a group of people since singing the national anthem in my Pacific Island primary school). I’m sure these human moments are not exclusive to the water industry, but the platform enabled this critical skill to be exercised for the benefit of our future leaders (thanks again to those who made it happen).

These two situations, along with my recent failure feedback scenario, are very different circumstances and yet each calls for the same thing: conversation, conversation, conversation. Not one leader is immune to leading from a position of imperfection. But conversation is something that one can strive to perfect, and some of the best leaders wield their oratory gifts with excellence (not always on a public platform) even if nothing else.

The pandemic has given us plenty to do (and not do). We have more opportunity to hone our conversational skills than ever before in the absence of body language, micro facial expressions and the like during video and phone calls. We have also broken away from just ‘shop talk’ to genuine questions about how other people are going on a human level. Let’s not rely on this pandemic sticking around to keep the skills we’ve been able to develop together in isolation. Let’s keep this conversation going!