The Shape of Water and the Weight of Leadership


The Shape of Water and the Weight of Leadership

The winner of the 2018 Oscar is a science fiction movie entitled “The Shape of Water.” I have not seen it, but I am told it is about an extraordinary, but somewhat flawed woman who has the ability to communicate with a captured being. It all takes place in a laboratory somewhere. She helps the “being” to escape.

The plot of the movie reminded me of executive leadership, to be honest, but being an executive coach, you might expect me to say something like that! At VIM Executive Coaching, my mission is help all of us who have our minor faults and flaws to communicate more effectively. For the executive leader it is not just a matter of communicating with others, but of being able to communicate with ourselves.

What is the weight?

“The Shape of Water” is a very unique title. Since we are children in grade school, we are taught that water has no shape. We accept it as reality. Water, temporarily, may take on the shape of an ice cube or icicle, but we also know it can turn into a puddle or to steam depending upon temperature. Of course, when we convince ourselves that water has no shape we are parroting the words of teachers, professors and scientists who dwell within our dimension.

Though it may sound (unashamedly) like a segue, I am constantly working with incredibly fine people who will tell me that in no way, in no dimension, in no fashion are they good leaders. They are convinced that the awesome weight of leadership is reserved for the likes of Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or even Oprah Winfrey, but never for them. It is the same dynamic.

We can look at water and think, “It is shapeless because I have been taught that way,” or we can imagine ourselves (if only for a second) as the executive vice president of a major corporation and think, “It is pure fantasy. I couldn’t handle the weight of it. I know beyond all doubt I would make a terrible leader of any sort, let alone an EVP!” And why is that, I might gently ask, because you have been taught that way?

What exactly is the weight of leadership? Furthermore, is the weight always the same? There is no correct answer to either question. The weight of leadership is, of course, a figure of speech. The executive leader or entrepreneur may, at any given time, have 100 challenges all juggling in the air. Some may be minor, others major and sometimes, the minor becomes a major. The weight of leadership is so described because the executive leader is always pictured as being alone, with essentially no counsel and no guideposts.

Is the weight always the same? While I would agree that a weight is always there, in coaching many executive leaders, I know the weight always varies. At VIM Executive Coaching we view one of our prime missions as helping executive leaders to lighten that weight just a little.

The light weight of mindfulness

If water (as we know it in our dimension) has no shape, and if leadership has a varying weight, what about mindfulness? What am I even talking about here?

In being mindful, in being cognizant of things exactly as they are, in my being mindful enough to be completely authentic and in the moment, all of us can accomplish amazing things. Going back to the movie (as it was told to me), the young woman who was perceived as being “different,” was authentic. She was able to communicate with the “creature” because she was herself. It brings up an incredibly important point about leadership all too often overlooked.

The “leader” is not required to look or act a certain way, it is a myth and a folly to believe so. I would say the most important thing is to be fully yourself, to be authentic. Being authentic involves compassion, communication, understanding and the ability to be mindful.

Mindfulness is weightless and indeed, that is its greatest attribute. To calmly focus and to reflect on what is and what is not is an incredible gift. To practice mindfulness meditation is to relieve all preconception and bias. In teaching these techniques to executive leaders and entrepreneurs, VIM Executive Coaching has been able to allow leaders to become more authentic and more effective.

Perhaps water does have shape, after all, and perhaps the weight of leadership can be significantly reduced, after all. The key is authenticity, to be open to possibility and to acceptance of what is, versus what we have been taught.


VIM: - noun: lively or energetic spirit; enthusiasm; vitality