If you’re a fan of some of the most popular shows on network television over the last decade — shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal — you know who Shonda Rhimes is. If you’re not a fan of those shows, you still should know who she is. Shonda Rhimes is an accurately self-described titan — a creative force of nature and a powerful producer carrying the weight of a massive amount of television programming — and from the TED stage for just under 20 minutes last month, she eloquently displayed the breadth of her strength and the depth of her weakness while describing how the Titan broke down :
There’s an obvious lesson here that Shonda is intent on making, which is critical for leaders of endeavors great and small must realize: THE WORK IS NOT THE WORLD. Yes, our work is important — important to us, important to the people working on it with us and for us, and important to the people we serve by doing it. Nevertheless, all work without play is doomed to burning out not just one’s energy but also the creative fire. More importantly, though, is the recognition that Success is nothing without Love, and conquering our professional world is hollow without the life fulfilling connection to Family and Friends. To be a leader with Integrity is to be a fully integrated person filling the role of leadership; our work life and our home life are not two different stories featuring two different characters. Who we are at work will be who we are at home, and vice versa.
But there’s an even more important lesson on leadership that Shonda’s talk didn’t describe, but exhibited: the power of transparency. To publicly display the weaknesses behind the Titan’s demigod-like image not only takes guts; it is among the most powerful ways to build trust with people you lead and to inspire them to take the risks of growing, stretching, creating, and performing.
Recently I sat down before nearly 200 colleagues at work with Ryan Hawk (friend, colleague, and creator of The Learning Leader Show) to talk about the challenges of making one’s mark wherever you are. For 90 minutes we approached this topic from a variety of angles, including our own experiences as well as the learnings Ryan has gained through his conversations with world-class leaders and performers on his podcast. That said, the most poignant feedback we have received has centered around our willingness to be so publicly open about things like failure, fear, and loss, such as in this segment:
So, follow Shonda’s lead: be a Titan, but know when to lay the world down and simply be you connecting to the Loves of your life that matter most, even if only in 15 minute chunks. And, just as importantly, lay down the mask of Invincibility: such images are never real, rarely inspiring, and often even heavier to carry than the weight of the world. Be an open window for your people to see the fears that must be faced, the insecurities that must be juggled, and the failures that must be overcome to become the Titan in the first place.
All that the proud can feel of pain,The agony they do not show,The suffocating sense of woe,
[Header image credit: http://www.desktopwallpapers4.me/digital-art/atlas-holding-an-eye-nebula-44535/]