On Leadership, Glue, and Kintsugi

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BLUF – The role of glue is to mend or join two otherwise separate surfaces. The practice of kintsugi celebrates said joining. Looking at individuals/organisations/leadership and the roles these concepts play in personal and professional dynamics.

Background

I was a bit distressed yesterday. One of my favourite mugs I’d used for the last ten, perhaps fifteen, years was broken. This mug sat on my desk in the SCIF, not as my preferred coffee carrier, but as the resting place for my Sowden filter until I could get to the kitchenette. I dutifully picked up all I could of the ceramic shards (so as not to lacerate anyone), and looked for glue.

Glue. Not often thought of unless things need to be brought together. Whether it’s mending broken cups, attaching project pieces, adding glitter, glue plays a vital role in joining things that wouldn’t stick together on their own, but is visibly absent. Rarely do we look at a mended or joined piece and remark how good the glue looks, how the characteristic presence of glue really adds to the strength/ value/ aesthetic. Glue is meant to be an invisible facilitator. If done poorly, it’s looked upon with disappointment or distaste, but done well it gives an impression of never having been there.

When challenged by personal or professional chaos, most of us adults keep pressing on. Call it what you want – hope/ duty/ fatalism – really, it’s the glue keeping us from cracking. We may have wonderful support networks in family and friends supplementing our reserves, but our glue is tested time and again when we reflect on our challenges alone. We carry forward, keep a stiff upper lip, but understand there are glues in place keeping us from coming apart at the seams.

People are often the glue for others. People different play roles within work/ home, but looking deeper into an organisation, someone – or a few – hold it together. The person:

  • engages various parties,
  • finds the answer,
  • looks to the risks on the horizon,
  • takes on ancillary tasks,
  • checks on others’ health and well-being,
  • helps keep the peace,
  • doesn’t just mind the gap – but actively fills it.

These people take various positions, but their being the glue is often overlooked. There is no metric leveraged, no KPI, no scoring, no goals set for this part of their role. They are unlikely to tell you about talking to fifteen different people over the course of four hours to get the required three-word answer. They won’t reveal it took seventy-three attempts to get the unnecessary mailboxes deleted. The uninterrupted calm belies their having dealt with family illness, children’s challenges, relied-upon support falling through.

Appreciated people in these roles are good magicians: you see the illusion, not the component pieces.

If not, they are simply glue.

The Japanese practice of Kintsugi is a unique take on the mending of broken things. By mixing precious metal into the epoxy, the broken thing is rebuilt, appreciating the sustained and repaired damage. As a likely uniquely Japanese perspective, the glue is not invisible, but rather adds to the aesthetic beauty.

Let me rephrase: the item repaired is often more beautiful, in part because of the glue.

Applying kintsugi to an organisational perspective, it’s the role of leaders to find everyone’s value and help them grow and flourish. People doing this aren’t doing it for themselves in many cases, but for the whole. Most people act as glue either as part of their nature or do it as a form of support when others don’t exceed their defined role expectations. There are many seams in local/ functional organisations and leaders could use better bonding agents, if the individuals are recognised and facilitated. Adding a bit of gold to their glue will change the standing from unclear the role and support they bring to others looking to those individuals for the support they are strong in, even if it doesn’t shine in their CV.

From our personal standpoint, kintsugi offers a different notion.

Looking not at the glue itself, but what it joins together.

Accepting the need for our internal bonding is because we’ve been damaged. The mended damage is functional and beautiful – and likely took a variety of bonding agents to piece together. What was before the incident was good, what came after is far more beautiful.*

-scl

*Note – the beauty found in kintsugi is not because of the damage itself, but showcasing the time/ care/ effort/ growth which was implemented in the restoration efforts. Until real post-incident growth occurs – consistently and over time – kintsugi doesn’t really apply.

One thought on “On Leadership, Glue, and Kintsugi

  1. Pingback: Boards and Liminality, Shefaly Yogendra

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