still learningI was talking my client, Larry, the other day, who was struggling with how to communicate with his manager. No matter how hard he tried, he always felt that he and his boss were out of step. And according to Larry, it was because of his boss’ abrupt style. In the next breadth, Larry mentioned a colleague that everyone had difficulty with. “Sure,” Larry said, “He’s a bit testy  a times, but he has such good ideas, and brings a lot to the table. You just have to figure out how to approach him.”

I looked at Larry, and waited for him to see what I just saw.

But he didn’t. So I asked him, “Why do you have so much patience with your colleague, able to accommodate his personality but when it comes to your boss, you have so much less patience with her? Basically, aren’t these the same They each have their idiosyncrasies, yet bring a lot to the table?

Larry looked at me and fell silent. I could tell he wanted to argue, and that this would be the argument: But Jill is my boss.

Here’s the rub. We hold bosses, teachers, supervisors, parents, Presidents, CEOs, and leaders to a high standard. We struggle with their infallibilities. We don’t give them a break, they way we give a colleague or even a subordinate a break.

I’ve written about this before, here and here. And it just happened on a more public scale two weeks ago, when the scandal about Jian Ghomeshi broke. Ghomeshi, host and co-creator of the daily talk radio program Q on CBC, was fired from his job when evidence surfaced of non-consensual violence and sexual harassment towards women.

People were shocked that someone so beloved, whom so many looked up to, could do something like that. Does his abhorrent behavior mean he wasn’t a good radio host or interviewer? Does it mean we cannot like what he did while not liking what he does? A friend of mine even suggested to me that maybe I wanted to remove a recent post that mentioned Radio Q and Jian Ghomeshi .

So, the question is, how do we view someone in their totality, good and bad, enlightened and amazing, stupid and disappointing? More specifically, how do we view someone whom we regard highly, someone with rank  when they are wrong, or even bad?

1.       No one attains a position of power, authority or expertise because they are perfect. In fact, no one achieves a position of power when they are fully ready. Parents become parents before they know what they were doing. People are promoted into management roles without having management experiences. Every teacher starts out inexperienced. Every doctor had a first patient. The role has rank, but the person may not yet fit that role.

2.       If we are critical of our boss, as I explained to Larry, maybe it’s because we see a better way of doing things. And if that’s the case, we have to consider that we might be better at some things than our bosses (parents, teachers, role models) are. We have to entertain the thought that we can help others, and that we have something to teach, regardless of the others’ rank.

3.    And perhaps the hardest thing of all is to remember that we humans are infinitely complex. We can be both good and bad. We can excel in one area, while being monsters in another. Confusingly, we love our characters on TV (Walter White, Tony Soprano) to be this way, yet abhor it in our leaders. For some reason, we have come to measure a leader’s strength by her ability to never change her mind. The possibility that our leaders are still learning is anathema to us. And yet, some of the greatest worldly figures who risked life and limb to fight for justice better had messy home lives, and were absent, demanding, or promiscuous partners.

I struggle with this. I don’t like it when those I admire disappoint me, and yet, when I have the higher rank, I like some latitude and patience for my imperfections. And I try to use this awareness when I find myself critical of leaders or those with higher rank: how do I want others to relate to my imperfections?

As long as we are alive, we are growing. And growing is messy business.

Walt Whitman said it best:

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)