A moment of poverty; it is this opening that we all wait and long for. One side calls forth and also creates the other—and neither side needs or wants to take the credit. It is the essence of what we mean by grace, the ecstasy of intimacy. ~Richard Rohr
A moment of poverty is the ultimate act of leadership. ~Kathryn Scanland
What is a moment of poverty? For most of us, when we think about poverty we think of a lack of financial means. But the meaning of the word poverty has nothing to do with money or finances. Poverty means a lack, a shortage, deficiency or scarcity of anything. We’ve just become accustomed to using it almost exclusively for financial poverty.
Several years ago, I traveled to the remote rural regions of Zambia. I was certainly anticipating poverty. In fact, numerous people had warned me about being overwhelmed by the extreme poverty that I would witness. When I stepped out of the Range Rover at the first village we visited, one of the most remote and underdeveloped, their poverty didn’t overwhelm me. It was how my own poverty was exposed that overwhelmed me. Sure, I had far more financial means than they did. However, they had far more joy, peace, contentment, and sacrificial hospitality than I had ever experienced, or even thought possible. It was a humbling moment of vulnerability. It was a moment of poverty—my poverty.
Vulnerable enough to identify with
Dr. Henry Cloud said that to be an effective leader, a leader of integrity, “you must be strong enough to depend upon, but vulnerable enough to identify with.” If leaders can be open to moments of poverty, and embrace them as opportunities for grace and intimacy with colleagues and employees, their likelihood to have people follow them will be significantly enhanced. Simon Sinek, in Leaders Eat Last, says “You’ve got to STEP AWAY from the spreadsheets and the computer screen; you’ve got to get out of the board room, you’ve got to do more than blast off a memo here and a memo there – you’ve got to show em’ that you care and show em’ that you’re there.”
What better way to be vulnerable and show the people you work with that you’re there than to allow your own poverty to be exposed.
An example: you’re in a planning meeting with the team you lead. You suggest a strategy that’s got merit but it’s not necessarily mind blowing. Then a staff member speaks up and suggests a strategy that demonstrates real innovate thinking and has the possibility of something akin to hitting it out of the ballpark. Instead of forcing your idea through, since you hold the leadership position, you commend their creativity and not only support their idea but suggest they take the lead on that strategy. A moment of poverty can be as simple as demonstrating that you don’t always have the best idea (because you don’t!).
You have limitations
Moments of poverty can be the recognition that you don’t know, that you don’t have the answer (right now), that you have limitations, that something isn’t your strength but it is someone else’s, that you have experienced some of the very same struggles (professional and personal) that some of your employees are experiencing. It’s recognizing that sometimes you are deficient and someone else is more than sufficient. And neither side wants or needs to take the credit. It is the essence of grace, the ultimate act of leadership. Leading with bold grace.