Leadership and influence are never perfected, only practiced.
Leaders who try to be perfect, self-sufficient and all-knowing wind up having to throw their weight around and keep others at arm’s length. They focus mostly on keeping up the display of bulletproof competence. Of course, competence isn’t a bad thing, but a hyper-focus suggests a trade-off. There's no need to choose between imperfection and competence. Imperfection and vulnerability are not weaknesses. They require true strength of character, which is influence at its best. When you practice imperfection (that is, humanness), you release your team from the fear of not meeting your expectations and being criticized. Those are things that block innovation and collaboration. Here are five tips to help set you on your path:
1. Lead with questions, not answers.
If you arrive with the right answer, people will withhold their best stuff -- the very stuff that may lead to the next breakthrough. Learn the art of inquiry. Ask questions that begin with, what have you noticed? How do you think we could improve? What is keeping us stuck? What do you love about it?”
2. Share lessons learned. Admit mistakes.
People are drawn to leaders who are not only very smart but have the confidence to kick back and laugh at their mistakes. We like and trust individuals who are personable and regular folks. Know-it-all-ness is off-putting and stifles innovation. The leader with natural influence says, “Let me tell you about something I learned the hard way,” instead of dictating the course to take.
3. Leave room for others to be right.
Watch out for the destructive practice of making people be wrong. Even if their ideas are not the way to go, acknowledge their contributions. When teammates have the opportunity to be right, they will demonstrate more spontaneity and freedom of expression. When you establish a safe environment in which people have the opportunity to be right, they will take ownership of the results.
4. Demand feedback. Welcome challenge.
Let members of the team know you won’t tolerate compliance for the sake of pleasing you -- and that you have no need for yes men and yes women. Ask, “What do you need from me to nail this project?” or “What am I missing on my end?” People trust and engage with leaders who are not threatened by those who speak their mind to offer value.
5. Change your mind.
The confident leader understands it's not necessary to be the only big deal in the company. Cemented certainty can lead to pride of ownership and close mindedness. On the other hand, if people know they can approach you and make a case for another solution for a project, you will always be presented with the best ideas to maintain a competitive edge. If someone has a better idea, change your mind along with the course of action. You will earn the reputation of being fair and open-minded.
Hey, nobody said leadership was easy. To be vulnerable and imperfect requires courage. But the challenge of living in the white water of change is too complicated to rest solely on one person’s shoulders. Every person is needed, all working together to reinvent the institution.