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Imperfect leadership

3 min read


Often in leadership circles, we place those who achieve success on pedestals and we talk about what they did right. We study their actions. We admire the decisions they made and the opportunities they’ve had. We learn from them and they challenge us.

Do you ever notice that some of these people never fail? They seem to never make a mistake or if they do, we only hear about it because they’re telling us about their success overcoming that failure or learning from it.

Are you ever tempted to compare yourself with those people? “I could never do such and such,” or, “I would love to have the chance to do that with his resources and her connections.” Do you find yourself comparing often?

Comparison is a deadly trap. It can keep us from believing we are qualified or capable. It can cause us to flinch, hesitate or stop doing what we know we should.

However, when it comes to leading from who you are — let’s call that character-based leadership — comparison wastes energy. Character-based leaders are imperfect. My character is not perfect. If your character is perfect, you can stop reading here.

So if you focus on perfection, you will get discouraged, because perfection seldom happens and never happens for long. Or you will choke, trying too hard. Or you might freeze, engulfed by fear. Aim for perfection and bank on discouragement, dissatisfaction, broken relationships, frustration and worse.

Leading from who we are means we must lead with and through imperfection. You can’t be someone else and be a character-based leader at the same time. One way to manipulate is to behave in a way that’s not consistent with who you are to get others to do what you want. Anyone inspired by a wrong image of the real you will disconnect when they discover the real you.

Our imperfections may discourage us but we must refuse to let them take us out of the game. Refuse to listen to that little voice in your head that tells you “Don’t screw up,” or “You always blow it in this area,” or “Remember the last time you tried this.”

Genuine leadership is leadership through imperfection.

When we face our imperfection and still do what needs to be done, that’s genuine character-based leadership. We must work on our shortcomings but never let them keep us from taking action. Imperfect, genuine leaders encourage and mobilize others to do the same. They make persistence and success believable, reachable. Let’s stop listening to any voice that tells us we can’t do something. Simply decide to be the change you want to see in the world. Then act. The worst thing that can happen is that you might fail, but you’ll be who you are.

I’ll take an imperfect, transparent, giving, willing leader over a perfect, aloof, self-serving leader any day. Wouldn’t you?