The Cycle of Security

“The greatest limiting factor of any organization is the insecurity of its leader.” – Dr. L.D. Buckingham

Dr. Laurel Buckingham is a long-time mentor. His stellar 44-year track record of exemplary leadership and growth at Moncton Wesleyan Church is still unparalleled in Atlantic Canada. I have the privilege now of knowing Dr. Buckingham as a colleague since he launched the Buckingham Leadership Institute at Kingswood University last year. Over the past few months I have enjoyed accompanying him as he’s been teaching leadership seminars for pastors in Canada and the USA.

One of Dr. Buckingham’s most fundamental convictions is that an insecure leader is the greatest limiting factor in any organization. He shares candid insights from his own journey. Combining his personal experience with his observation of other leaders over the years, Dr. Buckingham makes the compelling point that the most significant progress in an organization is only possible when the leader is secure enough to seek out and respond positively to feedback.

Listening to Dr. Buckingham in these presentations made me think more deeply about the connection between feedback and security. The question I pondered was “Does someone become more secure simply by welcoming feedback?” Feedback certainly does create more self-awareness. And self-awareness creates an opportunity and direction for change in response to the insight that has been gleaned from the feedback. Action taken now has a greater degree of confidence because it is an informed response, not just another shot in the dark.

Seeking out, welcoming and positively responding to offered feedback is the missing ingredient for many leaders.  Dr. Buckingham paraphrases John 8:31-32 and puts it this way, “Truth, rightly responded to, sets us free.”

Imagine trying to climb a mountain path in the dark. The first few steps are hesitant. The changes in elevation and random loose stones on the path create uncertainty. But the biggest obstacle to progress is a lack of confidence. Then a traveling companion just ahead of you turns back and shines her flashlight on your path. With this additional light comes additional confidence. The more light you have, the more confident your steps. The more confident your steps, the faster your progress toward the mountain’s summit.

Feedback is best when it is truth shared with a clear motivation of love. But even when it is negative criticism and the motivations of the critic are clouded, there are still insights to be gleaned. Dr. Buckingham likes to say that feedback is like nuggets of gold. Once you’ve found one, you need to keep on digging because there’s a goldmine of truth in there somewhere.

Let’s call this the “Cycle of Security.” Interestingly enough the cycle of “security” starts with two risks. First, I risk by taking action. In doing so, I risk failure and rejection. Second, I risk by inviting feedback. In doing so, I make myself vulnerable to criticism that may be unfair and hurtful. Courage is a prerequisite to beginning the Cycle of Security.

But these two risks are essential to open the door to greater confidence and success. Interestingly, as a side benefit, welcoming feedback can provide an opportunity to gain an ally rather than an enemy. People are more inclined to help those that they find to be open their input and suggestions. People are less inclined to assist or cheer for those they find closed to their feedback. So, just by being open, I’m already in a better place than I was before I started the Cycle of Security.

The real value to receiving feedback comes when I make the changes to put this new insight into practice. And now, when I take action, I have a great sense of confidence or security that my behavior will result in the outcomes that I desire. Then, I seek feedback on this action and begin the cycle again.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” -Dr. Ken Blanchard

Military aviators have a learning process that resembles this Cycle of Security. Know as the OODA Loop, pilots in combat are trained to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. The faster the pilot can observe the details, place them in context, make a decision about the best solution and then act to implement, the greater the likelihood that they will win the dogfight. The stakes are higher. Adrenaline is surging, but the pilot who has mastered the OODA Loop engages the battle with great confidence and a higher probability of success.

The stakes in leadership are high. This is especially true of leadership in the Church. Here, the stakes are eternal. There is a very real and very powerful enemy. In this arena, the leader who is insecure and closed to feedback is a dangerously limiting factor for the health of the organization and to the accomplishment of the mission.

The wise leader understands that leading without feedback is far more dangerous than opening up to criticism. The leader who embraces the Cycle of Security is set free for greater effectiveness. The better the leader, the better the team. The better the team, the more likely the victory.

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The better the leader, the better the team.

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