Leaders Fail – Every Day

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership, 3-LI

How do I fail thee? Let me count the ways. The number seems infinite. The possibilities for failure seem infinite. Good leaders fail, many times, every day. That’s not what makes them good leaders; it is what makes them human. They are good, maybe even great leaders despite their failures.

I miss important signals about what you’re feeling because I’m in “problem solving mode.” I may even miss the real issue because I interpret what you’re saying through my own filters and forget to ask if I understand you completely. I unwittingly say things you find demotivating because I am in a hurry and want to make my point quickly. I tune out sometimes, even when you’re speaking directly to me.

I make the mistake of believing my own press. I make unwarranted assumptions and/or forget to test those assumptions. I make the mistake of “confirmation bias” despite my best efforts to avoid that particular trap. At times, I fail to get out of my comfort zone and I know I sometimes don’t want to expend the energy to coax you out of your comfort zone. Perhaps my greatest failures are those times when I refuse to admit to myself, or to you, that I’ve failed at something. Because of that, I lose an opportunity to push on my own growing edge as well as robbing you of that same opportunity.

So no, I have not just returned from a workshop on how to be self-effacing, or how to do confessions, or why it’s good for your psyche to practice humility and forgiveness. Rather, I’ve been reading various blog posts and books on leadership which made me think about the leaders in my life and how they are “being.” Combine that leadership reading with the latest on neuroscience and consciousness/intelligence and you can see why I’m thinking along these lines. It’s something I think about a lot, almost every day. How do I develop leaders? What are the attributes of a leader? Can leaders be “made” or do they have to be “born”?

Here’s where I am on this at the moment: There are several “attributes” that we can ascribe to leaders that will be pretty much common across the board for highly successful people. Yet, there are always exceptions to many of those attributes. I frequently hear someone say that, “Great leaders are such and such, BUT, John definitely didn’t have that such and such, yet he was the most successful leader we’ve had in that role.” When I start trying to boil things down further, I frequently wind up on a dead end. Meaning, that I seem to always find an exception to the leadership attribute rule. Other experts in this field have the same challenge (whether they know or admit it or not!)

There are, as I said, many attributes we like to see in our leaders; Compassion, Vision, Communication, Competency, Vulnerability, etc. But, the one attribute I think is most likely to be found in all leaders is their ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That is, they are willing to acknowledge to themselves and to others their shortcomings, failures and blind sides – what I call “growing edges” and they are willing to be uncomfortable pushing on those growing edges. The key here is that when it comes to failures, the leaders I know are able to see them and admit them; uncomfortable as that might be.

Oh, and one other thing. A true leader understands that her/his main responsibility is to develop other leaders. And to that end, the great leaders are able to help you learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s a hard and strange lesson.

Who are the great, good and/or solid leaders in your life? What is the most fundamental common attribute? Are you working to develop that same attribute(s)?