One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make is pretending that there is a sudden and all-pervasive need to be all things to all people. If I had a dollar for every time I have met a beige, boring and (on the surface) seemingly perfect executive, I’d be a rather rich woman.
Perfection is not the aim of leadership. In fact, perfection drives followers away, and doesn’t encourage them to progress in their careers. Why aim for the next level up when it demands invulnerability and infallibility?
There are implications for seemingly perfect leaders, too. In presenting a perfect front–in hiding our faults and foibles away–and in bending and swaying according to the needs of those around us, we forget the leaders we aspired to be. In many coaching sessions or leadership workshops, I have heard the phrase “I’ve forgotten who I am”.
Here is a quick exercise for you: Think of 5 leaders who you would follow, almost no questions asked. They may be alive or dead, personally known to you, or relative strangers.
My bet is that none of these leaders can be described as faultless. In fact, I assume that their quirks and weaknesses spring readily to mind. None of these leaders spent considerable effort shaping themselves to suit their followers. Instead, they simply showed up as themselves–faults, foibles and all–and in being authentic, they persuaded others to follow them.
In the early 2000s, Gallup conducted some useful research. They asked over 10,000 followers what they required of their leaders. The answers were categorised into four main categories:
- Build trust
- Create stability
- Provide hope
- Show compassion
If you think back to the 5 leaders you nominated, I anticipate that they have done two things. Firstly, they met at least three of the four needs of their followers. Secondly, and critically, they did it in a way that was entirely authentic to them.
The Gallup results allow us to move past the erroneous assumption that a) we must be perfect and b) we must be all things to all people. Instead, we simply need to focus on building trust, creating stability, providing hope and showing compassion in a way that feels good to us, and true to who we are.
We do not follow perfection. We follow those with the courage to be authentic.