Eight years ago, my supervisor at the time said something simple yet fairly profound in his assessment of me. He said that one of my strengths and flaws was my ability to see both sides of an issue. In his view, it was a strength in that I was able to understand people’s perspective and tend to refrain from being overly judgmental. But it was a flaw in that it held me back when it was time to make a decision and stand firmly on one side or another.
A few months ago, I had yet another annual performance review in a long line of annual performance reviews. As much as they’re necessary evils, I dislike them – both when I’m the one DOING the review (of my staff) and when I’m the one RECEIVING the review. I’ve had approximately 10-15 of them. I’ve done even more of them. I’ve grown weary of them. Partly it’s because they’re a little artificial and I think that people should be guided along a pathway on a day-to-day basis rather than face an annual assessment of how close to the path they’re staying.
I get along great with my boss, and mostly he said highly positive things about me, but one of the things he said about me has stayed with me because it reflected what I’d heard eight years ago. He said that sometimes I’m a bit too much of a “maybe” person – that I occasionally have trouble making a firm decision or seeing things as black or white, especially if it might negatively impact a person or group of people.
It’s true, it’s one of my greatest flaws. It’s also one of my greatest strengths. I am a leader and communicator partly because I can understand different people’s perspectives and can usually figure out the best way to get through to them and empathize with them wherever they stand. I can also find common ground in almost every disagreement. At the same time, I am held back in my leadership abilities because I am often not as directive or bold as I should be. I anticipate people’s negative responses to a decision (on one side or another), and so I hold back to avoid hurting them or causing dissent. I can usually see why something is a bad idea just as clearly as I can see why it’s a good idea. As a result, I get stuck in the middle of too many issues.
I think this strength/flaw explains why I prefer to be a “facilitator” rather than a “leader”. In my current job, I have to be a leader. I have to make decisions for a team, and every time I do, there are some people who disagree with me. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like to “play the heavy”. I’d rather be the consultant they hire to help them come up with good ideas, help them see their way through impasses, and help them figure out how to strengthen their communication and build their teams. That way I can leave the decision-making up to someone else as I wander off to another project or task. That way, I can use my strength/flaw to its greatest advantage and nobody gets hurt.
The truth is, I want to embrace this piece of me, this strength/flaw. I want to embrace it and make it beautiful, so that it will in turn bring beauty to what it touches. I don’t want to be afraid to be bold, but I also want to be content with being a “maybe person”. Because sometimes the “maybe persons” are the most comfortable ones to be with in the middle of all these shades of grey. And sometimes, the “maybe persons” are the ones that lead us in the directions that feels right for all of us.