You always learn more when you teach than when you are a listener or a student.
I confirmed that truth again recently. As part of our visit to India, I was presented with a number of teaching opportunities. During two of them, the topics for the day were Vision, Transparency, and Accountability.
I was not sure how either of the audiences would respond. One audience consisted of the leadership team of a hi-tech company who were all followers of Jesus. The other was a group of 75 members of a teaching, translation, and medical consortium working in rural India.
We started with the necessity of clear Vision. We work, we play, we strive, and we contribute often without total clarity about the why behind it. The old adage, “Starting with the end in mind” is simple. However, simple does not always equal easy. As a leader, thinking through the why and the objectives of our why is imperative yet so often overlooked. Particularly when working in or with a relatively small group, the vision is missing because the why is assumed. “Of course,” is often the internal response of teams such as these. “Of course everyone knows where we are going and why we are going there!” Well, maybe not. Even a leader can get trapped at the 500-foot level as a doer rather than a leader. We need to show, tell and do rather than lead with vision.
A vision is a goal towards which we are putting our energy and talent.
As Christians, the vision is one seen through the lens of the ultimate leader – Jesus Christ. Sometimes we experience the vision as a beckoning from God. A call to action, a goal to pursue, and a pathway to follow.
In both groups, the leadership asked that we tie these topics to the realities of team building or teamwork. We can work for years on a project using internal motivation for energy. A team needs to experience a more outward call, leadership, or vision casting in order to come together. The coalescing of a team is the outward manifestation of a mutually accepted vision. Where are we going and how are we going to get there? In both teaching scenarios, we paused to reflect, pray and write down their understanding of the vision for their activity.
In both cases, it seemed like roughly one-third was on board both with the concept and the reality of their world. They were scribbling away while another third was struggling but making some progress towards connecting the dots. The final third was clearly lost in the process. Helping them move beyond their place of being stuck was and is a joy of teaching and the context for the most personal learning. It forces me to be focused, clear, and encouraging.
We then moved on to Transparency.
The conversation began with a question: Why does a leader need to be transparent and what is transparency anyway? I thought that unpacking the term “transparency” in such different cultural setting might be hard or confusing but it wasn’t.
Trust is not built by pounding your chest or proclaiming all the great things you have done. Those just feed your own pride and ego. Trust is built on the foundation of truth, love, and more often than not, examples of failure rather than examples of success. When we share some of our failures or issues we are dealing with, they provide a sense of truth and build a foundation of trust. Being transparent means letting them see the unfiltered you – both good and bad. It is not a maudlin dialogue centered around poor me, but instead centered around real issues and then clearly identifying how they changed you or how the problem was resolved.
There is another great old saying, “You have to build the bridge of trust strong enough so that it can bear the weight of truth going forward." We all know that the future will contain both success and failure. The difference between people is how they respond to both.
Transparency is important in building trust and facilitating communication.
We tell the truth to people we trust and who trust us. Transparency is a critical element to both building trust and communicating truth. I was so pleased that both audiences grasped this concept because I believe they know it to be intrinsically true.
Then there is Accountability.
If transparency is important, then accountability is critical. It is also the hardest. Very few of us relish being held accountable. Our western society is pointing to the other person as being the responsible party for any personal problem. We are not responsible for the outcomes of anything.
You, my parents, my teachers, my playmates, my wife, my kids, my culture, my education…my my, my, my! They are all the responsible party; therefore, I have no responsibility. Politicians are particularly adept at using the pointed finger to absolve an audience of responsibility and put blame on others with themselves and the intermediary savior. They did x to you, and I’m going to save you from the outcome.
When we are transparent with ourselves, the root cause of the problem has at least part of us in an accountability role. Thinking back to an old story, Adam blamed Eve for bringing him the apple to eat and the compelling message of all-knowing divinity that came with it. He certainly did not have to take that first bite. But he did choose to do so.
Accountability and responsibility go together. Part of the forward and positive motivation required to overcome the finger pointing syndrome is a commitment to excellence. When we want to do anything well, we need to know how exactly we are coming along in our progress. Accountability and the metrics that go along with it are the elements that evidence our willingness to take responsibility.
We will never experience the joy of seeing a vision fulfilled without transparency and accountability. Without those two elements, we operate in a vacuum or a sea without a compass.
A week or so after meeting with the tech team leadership, I met one of the team members at a conference. After our greeting, his next words, spoken with a big grin were, “Vision, Transparency, and Accountability!” The words were joined together in his sentence as if they were both connected and cohesive. One thought made up of three ideas. Expressing my joy at his connection to our teaching time and then the presence of mind to share them immediately brought both happiness and satisfaction to the teacher – me!
The group of 75 had a somewhat different reaction. “’Much of this is new teaching," they said, "but we see how important it is to have a vision, be transparent. and accountable. We will try and we will practice."
Each of us can commit to “try and practice."
And that includes me. Clarify our vision, be transparent creating trust and communication, and be willing to bear the responsibility of accountability so we can learn from our mistakes and be encouraged by our successes is a description of a life well lived.
You can’t ask for much more - live it, love it, practice it. This life is the only one you will have until eternity is a reality.
Be blessed and stay with us as we experience Trusted Advice along The Way.