The Beauty of the Flawed Leader

One of my mentors says, “Success has very little to teach us after the age of 35.”  It’s around this time (or maybe more like age 50 for some of us) that we figure out that all the climbing, reaching, and achieving is not infinitely sustainable. For some, this is a death of sorts, but for others it is simply a temporary and irreconcilable tug to be silenced by yet another reaching grasp: the new suit to fit the new position, the new relationship, the smooth new profile, or a shiny new reward from the spoils of our potent youth.

If you talk with any leader who is truly honest, they’ll tell you that they fail more than they succeed. Many of their plans and strategies, initially hatched with wide-eyed enthusiasm, “run out of gas along the road” or get set aside for the next great idea. For every workplace challenge they handle with grace and wisdom, they can tell you about two they wish they could get back.

If a leader can tolerate the initial anxiety that comes from this awareness, they will see that they are like a piece of beautifully cracked pottery. The hard-fought wisdom of their ascent is now becoming more accessible than ever before. They are approachable. Mere mortals. American exceptionalism—though largely responsible for our staggering GDP—is a deceptive drug for the individual leader who desires to capture the brilliance of their contribution in their second half of life. Their greatest opportunity to impact is now because of—not in spite of—their scars.

In my 30 years of seeing the leadership equation from both the executive suite and the cubicles, I can tell you without equivocation that leaders who display, rather than deny, their “cracks” have not just the backs of their employees but their hearts too. In today’s marketplace, the most effective leaders and profitable organizations have both. And the cool thing is, all it requires is the truth.

When a leader “owns” their mistakes, the effect on a team and even an entire organization can be dramatic. One of the prominent reasons leaders are hesitant to show it when they blow it is that they’re concerned their mistakes will make them seem less competent. The opposite is actually true. Seeing one’s self fully and honestly is a key aspect of emotional intelligence, and we all know that. This attribute will win the cooperation and loyalty of our team members faster than any other leadership attribute.

Here’s the basic psychology: When you are obsessed with getting off the hook, people will be obsessed with putting you back on the hook. Conversely…well, do I even need to explain it?

Which psychology do you want to work in your relationships?

Perhaps the greatest effect of owning your flaws is that you will unleash the potential not just in yourself but in others around you. You will model the liberating truth that the most effective and happy leaders in any organization can hold their brilliance in one hand and their brokenness in the other at the same time. This is the playground of true human capacity.


As an organizational psychologist, Dan McArthur has worked with owners and top executives in a variety of organizations for 30 years. He is at his best when the obstructions to growth and harmony are not readily observable. He has an amazing ability to quickly build trust with all key players and support them as they move toward better self-management, leadership, healthy team dynamics, and increased productivity. (Learn more about Dan…)


copyright 2017 McArthur Executive Development

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