How messy can you get?

Distributed leadership is messy. There’s no two ways about it. If you are a leader committed to creating an environment of the free and safe exchange of ideas and perspectives you are going to get splattered with mud and muck. If you are a leader who believes that your role is to create the space for deeper conversation about bigger issues you will get dirty. If you are a leader who believes that when conflict gets managed well it produces energy and motivates stronger connections and new thinking, you will be covered in grime.

This filthy mess is simply the price of admission for leaders who believe that extrinsic motivators don’t hold a candle to those intrinsic drivers that compel most people in the right environment. I know it’s not fair but it’s just the way it is.

Alternatively, you can keep things clean. Go ahead and rely on hierarchy, title and position power and you’ll stay pressed and fresh. By all means, keep the focus on you and take all the real responsibility – you’ll be neat as a pin. Definitely keep the conversation limited and the exchange of information to a trickle and you’ll be spotless. At the first sign of conflict, forget about candor and confrontation and you’ll remain immaculate.

Sadly, too many leaders play this kind of defense, holding up their spotlessness as some kind of prize: “Look everyone, nothing happened to me today!”

Yes, I know, getting dirty can be tough and unpleasant and downright painful at times. And, in a society obsessed with perfect – Jennifer Hudson and Yo-Yo Ma faked it? Are you kidding me? -leaders who live in the mess will stand out because of something altogether different: they will make it possible for others to do their best. And only the best will follow.

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