CG #31 – Do You Use These Powerful Words?

If you’re stuck on the heroic treadmill, you might want to start using these two little words with clients and co-workers.

Word Count: 558

Reading Time: 1.5 minutes

When I step out of the train in New York’s Penn Station, I’m bowled over by the sensory overload of sights and sounds, and the rush of the crowd sweeps me along.  Everyone seems to know exactly where they are going, and they are moving fast.  Everyone, that is, except me.

No matter how often I make the trip in from Newark airport, I’m always lost in Penn Station.  I used to confidently join in the crowd and walk quickly to the first exit I saw, no matter how far it took me out of my way.

It felt important to me to look like I knew what I was doing.  If anyone noticed, I doubt they were fooled.

Lately, I’ve tried a different tack:  I stop dead and wait until I’m oriented.  If I can’t get oriented, I ask someone for help.  If I get lost, I change course immediately, even if it results in a dirty look.  Sometimes I say “oops.”

This non-heroic approach to Penn Station gets me to the right exit with an economy of movement so I can save my energy for what matters.    This non-heroic approach works for consultants and managers too.

 Two Powrful Leadership Words:  “Oops” and “Help”

I can’t remember who told me that showing my vulnerability is what enables people to love me.  Sure, everyone loves a winner, but we don’t always find winners easy to like.  My mentor, Jean Westcott, boiled vulnerability down to two words:  “Oops,” and “help.”  Without those two words, leadership becomes comically heroic.

In an episode of “Star Trek:  The Next Generation,” Captain Picard and the ship’s doctor, Beverly Crusher, are escaping their captors on a strange planet.  They are lost, shackled together at the ankle and Dr. Crusher can read Picard’s thoughts.  When Captain Picard confidently points and says, “That way,” Crusher stops and says, “You have no idea which way to go, do you?  And you do this all the time!”  Picard admits that being a Captain means that people look to him for direction.  “Confidence helps them believe.”

That may be true.  And it may be something else.  Leadership may be something else.  At the very least, leadership in this moment may be something else.

If you are locked in to the heroic style of leadership, you may be spending the bulk of your energy looking like you know what you’re doing. 

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as a consultant is to admit when I’m lost or I’ve made a mistake.  It has never failed to build a stronger partnership, even when my client has been initially disappointed or frustrated.

Not only does the heroic approach make it hard for people to join you, it may be leaving you too depleted for the thrill of discovery, the astonishment of contribution and the raw joy of being in it together.

Try this:

  • Use the words “oops” and “help” just one time this week.   Today, if you can.  Look for the thing you don’t know, the place you are unsure.  Once you allow yourself to start looking, these are easy to find.


You’ve got nothing to lose but your façade, and that can be such relief.



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