Culture, Entrepreneurs, Leadership

Unicorns, leprechauns & the complete leader


“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” –Sigmund Freud

I recently ran across a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, In Praise of the Incomplete Leader, where they talk about how it’s time to end the myth of the complete leader: the flawless person at the top who’s got it all figured out. Just like unicorns and leprechauns, the complete leader does not exist. CEOs who think they are done developing themselves are done. Done with their careers.

What I have noticed throughout my career is the strongest leaders recognize when it is time to take the lead, but more importantly the time to let go. They recognize when they need to let others take ownership and know when to seek outside help. These observations are supported with data from a study conducted by the MIT Leadership Center. The result is a framework that breaks leadership into four capabilities:

  1. Sensemaking – understanding the context in which a company and its people operate
  2. Relating – building relationships within and across organizations
  3. Visioning – creating a compelling picture of the future
  4. Inventing – developing new ways to achieve a vision

Rarely if ever will someone be equally skilled in all four domains, thus, “incomplete”. The best leaders recognize what they are good at and seek out others to help compliment their strengths and fill in the gaps. An incomplete leader will also seek out ways to develop the areas where they are the weakest.

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” –Albert Einstein

Over my career I have learned that as a leader you must take ownership for your own development, proactively seeking out ways to hone and develop your leadership skills. These are my favorite ways to keep developing as a leader:

Stay current

Take the time to stay up to date on what is going on in the world and not just the world you live in. I recently had a conversation with a well-respected business leader who made the comment, “I don’t do any of that social media stuff. I don’t have the time to learn it.” Even if it is intimidating or uncomfortable, push through and take the time. It does not mean you have to be the one that does it, but in today’s world your personal brand can be defined by what is found online. Do you want to be seen as obsolete? Just like everything else, it is okay for an incomplete leader to not have the answers but to find someone to help them stay current.

Never stop learning

An incomplete leader will take ownership for their own development. That can be done through courses and seminars or through books. There are a few tried and true books that every leader will benefit from reading at some point in time. Over the past 2 years we have mentored dozens of CEOs and at different times we have used one or more of these books to help them solve some of their biggest challenges.

  • Strengths Finder & Strengths Based Leadership – A simple way to identify your strengths
  • 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – A guide for gaining alignment and teamwork
  • Leaders Eat Last – Understanding and owning your role as leader
  • Start With Why – Inspire others to take action
  • Delivering Happiness – Creating the ideal customer experience
  • Good to Great – Planning tools to take your company to the next level
  • Crucial Conversations – How to have those important, sometimes tough, conversations

Seek a trusted advisor

Being a leader, particularly the role of CEO, can be extremely lonely. Having someone close to you whom you can trust and who gets it can be very liberating. When I was in the role of CEO I knew I did not have all of the answers, but who could I admit that to? The board? My leadership team? I could not let them know that I was an incomplete leader. It’s a heavy burden to bear. I proactively sought out mentors to help guide me along the way and eventually engaged an executive coach who proved to be invaluable. Having someone whose only vested interest was my success, allowed me to open up and talk through how to approach opportunities from a balanced perspective. Who are your trusted advisors?

By admitting and owning that you are an incomplete leader does not make you weak, it makes you stronger. Embrace the reality that everyone has flaws and everyone feels inadequate from time to time. Instead of feeling defeated you will soon begin to feel empowered.

Linda Ruffenach

Customer experience guru, original Whisky Chick, and strong believer that roadblocks are not meant to stop you but to help you find a better path.

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