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Posted: March 31, 2011

Exposed and fearless

It's tough -- but better than being a pretender

Todd Ordal

I love getting older! Okay, not all elements. My knees hurt from the five surgeries I have had and I sometimes forget my wife's name-but age brings experience and perhaps a reduced level of concern about what others think. I don't blush as often as I used to when I say, "I don't know." I believe that my effectiveness is much higher when I quit worrying about having all of the answers.

Being exposed (vulnerable is another great word) is uncomfortable at first, but it is much more genuine than being a pretender. Do you really like working with Mr. Perfect who never admits defeat or the fact that he doesn't know something?

With a German mother, a personality type that wants to know all of the details, a desire to always make the right decision and a healthy fear of failure, I have had to fight the desire to control all situations. Being exposed does not come naturally. Running a nuclear power plant requires extreme control and little ambiguity.

However, in most business situations, regardless of your role, admitting when you are stuck and sharing leadership with other group members can be very liberating and much more effective than shooting for perfection. You may have heard, "It's about success, not perfection." Many people in a position of leadership-not all of whom are really "leaders"-would benefit from being more exposed.

You really don't engender trust in others when you always have the shields up. "Never let them see you sweat" might be good advice if you compete in extreme cage fighting, but it is really pretty naïve and ineffective in business. (Patrick Lencioni has some great thoughts on this in his book, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team".)

A close cousin to being exposed is being fearless. Have you noticed that some people are able to be completely honest in most situations, while others fret over the consequences? A good friend explained a work situation to me and wondered if he was being too honest with his boss. Being fearless can lead to unemployment, but constantly biting your tongue only leads to misery.

 A friend taught me that it is much more important to be kind than nice. Being kind requires you to be fearless and allows you to say things that may sting but provide value; being nice is born out of fear. How do you respond to, "Do you like this new outfit?" "Oh yes, honey, and your butt looks really small!" or "You look much better in the other one." Okay, so that might be an extreme, life-threatening example, but being kind requires us to be fearless; being nice is not always kind. (Please note that I was nice and didn't specify gender in the above vignette, so no angry letters. Guys want small butts too!)

A word of caution: Being exposed and fearless requires that you are interacting with emotionally intelligent people. If you aren't, why not? I learned early in my career that it is best to consider yourself self-employed at all times. While this attitude can lead you to find yourself out of a job in short order if you work for a jerk (or a board of jerks), I wouldn't do it any other way.
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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at,  303-527-0417 or

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Readers Respond

Great point , John! When you say, "I'm wrong" it means you stop digging the hole.... By Todd Ordal on 2011 04 01
I just turned 70 and have to admit that it took me way too long to admit I'm wrong, but the big revelation was when I realised somewhere in my 40,s that saying I'm wrong stops the problem stage and leads to the "lets fix it" stage. I've tried to instill that in my employees ever since. Defensiveness is one of the biggest "alerts" in most people's minds. I like the old adage: "Thou doth protest too much" from the bard. When someone "defends" the antennas all go up By John Wray on 2011 03 31

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