When Leaders sit with Clouds - Rahil Patel

13 December 2021

A few years ago I had the joy of watching the film – What we do on holiday where a couple on the verge of divorce take their three delightful children to the lush English countryside to visit their dying grandfather. The children arrive at their grandfather’s extravagant home which is managed by their rich and rather pompous uncle who begins to introduce the intricate technicalities of the elegant home with an air of arrogance. “This home is very intelligent,” he began to claim. “With a simple clap of your hands the lights switch off…” he displayed quite theatrically.

After a couple of cringed filled minutes the youngest of the three children interrupted her uncle’s proud and thunderous moment with a startling question.
“How can a house be intelligent?” And her dear uncle’s smile vanished, “well, er…it is..!” His voice is now rising.
Can it do cartwheels?” The 6 year old pushed.
“No,” said the uncle with his eyebrows frowning in confusion.
The youngling pressed further, “can it draw a peacock?”
“No,” came the tired reply.
“Then how can it be intelligent?” questioned the perplexed little girl.
Her uncle’s face went from red to rage and what happened next was an explosion of sorts which left the children confused as it was obvious that a house cannot be intelligent!

There are some fascinating layers and insights hidden in between the interactions of this comic filled scene.
Innocent correction has a relentless rawness that can stop the flow of false assumptions adults or leaders tend to make. Correction can create the most awkward and uncomfortable moment for a leader who assumes that everyone agrees with what they are saying or doing at any given time.

What helps a leader embrace with ease and effect uncomfortable and awkward conversations at work? Amidst the many attributes needed to usher in such a capacity is the ability to sit still and wait for the awkward moment to fully manifest itself in the atmosphere and settle without the urge to brush it aside quickly. I call it the ability to sit with clouds.

We all enjoy the beauty of a blue sky. It’s perfect, untouched and unhindered and yet when I spent several years in India under such a captivating canvas I somewhat lost the value of a fully blown blue sky because it was a daily occurrence (to some degree). When clouds arrived and mingled amidst the vast blueness they created a concoction that gave way to a depth in the blue that made it quite special.

It’s very uncomfortable for some leaders to embrace awkward questions at work and for some even mind numbingly embarrassing. Especially if they have been corrected on a matter by a ‘junior’ in public.

It reveals 2 blurry blind spots of the Leader.

  1. Insecurity &
  2. The assumption that everyone accepts everything they say.

I say “blurry” because most leaders in this delicate category do not rage like the pompous uncle in the film. They find cunning ways with a camouflaged calm to brush aside the awkward question or correction. In a more dangerous category we find some leaders who have intentionally learned this crafty craft and carved it cunningly into their subconscious. They don’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed and hence miss the correction completely!

An experienced leadership coach has the ability to probe with permission and pass through all the protective layers a leader hides behind (intentionally or unintentionally) in their quest to brush aside embarrassing corrections or any discomforting awkwardness.

Insecurity is rooted in fear and that insecurity is a learned tendency however calm it may look on the outside. It takes a courageous leader to allow the leadership coach to probe into sensitive areas where stories of insecurity hide.
And the assumption that everyone agrees and understands everything a leader might believe or say is downright ignorance. But ignorance is also learned and needs to be unlearned. Where did you first learn to switch off from the people around you? Does ignoring people make you feel protected? If so, how?

When leaders embrace correction or awkward encounters they usher in the idea that there is no ‘junior’ or ‘senior’ and more importantly they carve out a sacred space for safety. It takes a servant hearted leader to allow this life changing legacy to enter the workplace but the process to arrive at that legacy requires rigorous discussions with an experienced Leadership Coach.

It can’t be a fully blown blue sky all the time however beautiful that may sound. Clouds are good. They bring perspective to the canvas around us and more importantly they carry rain! And where would we be without rain? Likewise, where would we be without correction? Thomas Edison was corrected 1000 times before he went on to invent the light bulb…
So, let there be light!

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