I recently became involved in an examination of my leadership style; actually I was required to do so along with everyone else who held a managerial position at my workplace. Through the course of two weeks I was asked to evaluate how I see myself “in a primary way” and how I see myself under stress. I was asked to do the same for those I answer to and they were asked to do this for me. The end result was to combine these responses to arrive at a primary and secondary style of leadership among seven possible types.
When the results of my leadership exercise came back, one of my styles did not surprise me. I was objective driven, a pacesetter. That sounds good. I try hard to be this type of person and such a style would be many a person’s idea of what would make for a good primary style of leadership.
The “problem” here is it was my secondary, not primary style of leadership. The administrative team smelled a Vulcan, hard and crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside and had “skewed” my results to reflect the real me. I call this “having a Nordic mind and a Mediterranean heart.” Leadership assessments call it having a relationship driven affiliative style as a primary style of leadership and pacesetting as a secondary style. After twenty years on the job and being in a place that requires quite a bit of vulnerability, I had betrayed my public face and allowed myself to be seen.
I know I betrayed my public face because I’ve plenty of occasions to work with or converse with those I only modestly know. In these environments I am often driven to get something accomplished and quick to say what won’t work. I have been called “cold, apathetic, passionless, and someone who does not know how to have fun.” I remember on one occasion this drawing the ire of one of my friends when she heard such a thing in a group setting. “Doesn’t it bother you people say these things?” I respond with my classic “those who need to know, know already.”
“Need to know,” plays big where I work, because we have to constantly ask ourselves this whenever we share information. My friend was upset when I was chastised for my lack of passion, but I was not offended. Those present that night did not have to see me as anything other than driven to a purpose and the last thing they needed to see was that I could be “playful,” an oft cited word describing how others saw me on that leadership assessment. That adjective provides the impetus for this post, which believe it or not started as I was reading about what people are like after ten years of Facebook.
I thought of posting about social media and its influence, but others have already done that much better than I could. If I could pick one article for you to read on the matter I will direct you to an essay by Cara Joyner from Relevant, a magazine popular with millennial Christians. I will use this post to comment on only one of her points, because it is the best argument I ever read for keeping things off social media. If you read her article that would be point number 4: “Is this a moment to protect?” That is her “need to know” argument and the one we have to take with the utmost seriousness because when we ignore it, we erode that which is sacred.
I can recall “playful” moments. I have seen Eden. I know the geography of friendship. I have mapped the landscape of intimacy. This has happened in various ways and the stories are stories to be shared, but they are also to be protected and beg the question as to with whom they should be shared.
You have property rights; you have the right to be in a safe place inhabited by those who care for you in a way as to allow you to be vulnerable. That landscape , often though not always, deserves to be photographed and documented. Those words and pictures become the archives for moments that will transcend time and exist forever. They become the letters and 5 x 7s that we put safely away and pull out in those certain moments and are read and perhaps destroyed when we die. They are the love letters the twenty five year old shows her friend at a coffeehouse and the pictures of the kids dads pull out and share while sitting down together over a beer. For the exhibitionist, however they are the things that permit intrusion into sacred space.
I will return to the thought of that work assessment because I work in a sacred space called Misericordia. I have taken plenty of photos there and have written on it often enough. I share these with the “need to know” crowd. I also occasionally share my generic writing of the place with a larger crowd. Whatever the case, I attempt to do my sharing with those who “believe.” This is important because you can’t see Misericordia if you don’t believe in it and I believe in it so much that I can be considered “playful” by other believers.
Misericordia is like other sacred spaces. It is a place for the believer. The same is true of the playground where you watch your kid on the swing set and the little café where you sip latte with the love of your life. These places deserve their photos and words, but they are images and musings for the believer and not the public.
Granted all of these things have a public face. The playground is a community safe zone, your café has a website that promotes its’ coffee, and where I work turns to the public to support its mission. These are the social media things showcasing what the public should know. But in, around, and under these public things is the sacred. They are the “have to be believed before they are seen things.” It is these things with which we need to exercise the utmost caution when sharing, for sacred space if not believed in can’t be understood when it is shared and if you are not invested in these spaces, you cannot believe. This has always been an issue, but is more of an issue now when you can throw the doors of the temple open to 500 non-believers.
Social media is a network; it is not sacred space. It cannot capture the gravity of relationships that run deeper than the network. That was never its purpose. Zuckerberg never told anyone to stop writing letters and mailing pictures of the kids to the grandparents, but that has become an unintended side effect. We have blurred the lines of intimacy and having burst open our boundaries, we show the world or at least a couple of hundred people things they do not need to know if only because they can’t believe in them. Granted there are ways to control content, but those are often ignored and as we look over our news feeds we see the things we know to be cute or charming, but also the things we do not believe in for they are not our story. When we can see things and know that they are only posted in a way to rely information or to share the cute and charming that is fine, but when we see them and realize they point to a story in which we cannot relate, it is evidence someone has opened up in a way that they should not, exposing not only their sacred space but in all likelihood a sacred space they share with another.
If there is a takeaway from this it should be think before you share. Be more in tuned with a person’s “need to know” than their “want to know.” Be in tune with “want to know” too; I’m tired of looking at your cat, but think especially on the “need to know.” Social media is not only a place of the rampant postings of those with open boundaries, but the passive lurking of those who are only too happy to consume the stories of your sacred space that when shared in such a public way is a product rather than a temple.
In the end, my assessment of social media is not too unlike my leadership assessment. It is best to be interesting and playful, but when going into such a public realm, if you are unsure of what to share then it is best to be cold. You will be misunderstood, but you will also protect the most beautiful things that belong not to the world, but to sacred geography. It is possible you will be found out and the warm and vulnerable will break through anyway. If you use social media, it is a risk you will have to take. Even if that does not come through, don’t worry; “the people who need to know, know already.”
Image: mkhmarketing, Creative Commons