High Exposure Leadership: Naked and Barefoot
High Exposure Leadership: Naked and Barefoot
Week of October 28, 2018 by Tom Deighan
Many leaders feel like their positions have suddenly become High Exposure Leadership positions in this digital age. Social media has added new levels of stress to leading, and it certainly can make people feel very vulnerable, but I doubt any of us have felt as exposed as Isaiah the Prophet: “The Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, ‘Go, and remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet.” And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.”’ (Isaiah 20:2) He did this for three years!
While social media may be an issue for modern leaders, this extreme example of high exposure leadership should make us feel a little better about our callings. After all, I don’t know anyone who has been required to walk around naked and barefoot for three years. Nevertheless, social media can make us all feel just as exposed and vulnerable. We can now see so many people’s thoughts and opinions instantly, even when not looking for it. There is no escape, and to make matters worse, people worldwide can focus on our tiny corners of the world. Local gossip can now go viral. Despite all of this technology, however, human nature has not changed at all.
Social media may be worldwide, but you can relax. The same people would be talking about you with or without social media, and few of us are important enough to garner world-wide attention. We all feel like our fishbowl is important, but there are an infinite number of fishbowls. Most people do not care very long about what happens in other fishbowls because they are too busy swimming in theirs. Yes, everything is now public for anyone to see, but your public is probably still the same public it would have been pre-internet. Human nature has not changed; it is just instantly displayed on our smart phones. We are just as exposed as we always have been, but now so are they. Coffee shop and water cooler gossip is now public, for everyone to see. For once, we can see as clearly out of the fishbowl as anyone else can see in. Everyone is now naked and barefoot.
God has not asked any of us to literally walk around naked and barefoot as part of our callings, but we really should embrace it, metaphorically speaking. We can live our lives in constant fear of trolls and virtual mobs, or we can realize that we have been naked and barefoot all along. The likelihood of being the focus of gossip is not greater now, we just feel more exposed. Yet, no matter how we dress ourselves up, the people we know and serve already see us for who we are. We may not like to admit it, but we have been exposed our whole lives, so maybe we should just get used to it.
The Bible teaches us to confess our faults to each other (James 5:16). This does not mean that we should take to social media with our every mistake, but it does mean that we must be open about our shortfalls, limitations, and weaknesses. The more readily we accept and confess our faults, the more we can walk effectively in high exposure leadership. Everyone else can see our faults, mistakes and failures. We are only fooling ourselves if we think people will see us on pedestals.
In my experience, I fail most severely as a public leader when I either pretend to not have flaws or I refuse to acknowledge a mistake I have made. Sometimes I acknowledge those mistakes or flaws privately, and sometimes publicly, but those flaws always come out. Jesus told us that everything will eventually be made known (Luke 12:2), and realistically, everyone around me probably knows my worst. Hearing about it on social media is not the end of the world, it simply means I can see what others think about me and my leadership. I can acknowledge my flaws and mistakes when that happens, or I can live a lie.
With time, I suspect Isaiah got used to being naked and barefoot, so maybe we should accept it, too. As leaders in a social media age, we can guarantee that someone out there is tracking our flaws and mistakes. Chances are that they are right, too, because we are all naked and barefoot if we are in leadership. It is what we signed up for, so we should get used to it. Relax . . . get comfortable with our own flaws . . . and readily acknowledge our mistakes. And don’t be surprised when people talk about you on social media or in coffee shops. Those things will never change.
Dear leader, “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) The digital age simply allows us to see human nature faster and more vividly, but it does not change people at their core. We can fear exposure, or we can be transparent about our flaws and mistakes. That doesn’t mean walking around like Isaiah, but we must see ourselves for the people we really are, flaws included. Others can already see right through us anyways.
At best, our self-images are just illusions we have created. We can never control how others see us, but we can decide how to see ourselves. In that regard, Isaiah’s self-perception while naked and barefoot was probably healthy and accurate, believe it or not. He undoubtedly knew what others thought, and he eventually grew comfortably it. When we think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3), we set ourselves up for failure because we are building upon a lie. For those three years, Isaiah had no delusions about who he was.
Ultimately, neither our nor others’ perception matters. Only God’s. Paul discovered this over the course of his extreme calling: “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you . . . In fact, I do not even judge myself.” (I Corinthians 4:3) After all he experienced, he decided that no one’s perception of him mattered as much as God’s, not even his own perception of himself. Paul knew that no matter our position or our title, we are all just sinners saved by grace. No one’s opinion, including ours, changes this reality. If we are in leadership positions, we should take his advice. We should also find a special connection to Isaiah, who literally walked naked and barefoot to fulfill his calling. For likewise, we have all been called to high exposure leadership.
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