The Imperfect Leader

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ambitious man climbs to the top to see far

Most new leaders who come to us for support have the weight of perfection on their shoulders. I’ve seen so many aspiring leaders frozen in their careers by the perceived expectation of achieving flawless execution, easy and productive feedback conversations, and a team who will not only rally for them but also like them on a personal level too. The truth is: The perfect leader doesn’t exist, and that’s a very good thing. 

The unfortunate thought trap of imposter syndrome that these leaders struggle with seems to be especially common among the high-performing professionals in high-stress industries where we focus our coaching support. And it makes sense. When you’ve spent most of your life setting ambitious goals and then knocking them out one by one with sheer badassery, it can be hard to reconcile the fact that this new challenge may not be as straightforward as you’re used to.  

There are as many solutions to overcoming the fear of imperfection as there are scared new leaders. But today, we thought it would be helpful to discuss the two things we consistently see resulting in success. 

Abandon perfection and embrace growth. 

The best leaders are aware of their shortcomings and are in constant search of opportunities to develop their skills. They demonstrate vulnerability by encouraging their colleagues to provide them with ongoing and actionable feedback to uncover new opportunities for personal and professional growth. They welcome any and all ideas for driving continuous improvement on behalf of the greater good — even if these ideas outshine their own. 

Growth should not only be attached to yearly performance reviews or standardized feedback opportunities. Great leaders build moments of feedback and debate into their team’s regular workflows, such as weekly project check-ins that focus on what could be done better or more efficiently in your processes. These quick meetings should be conducted both in individual and group settings, acknowledging that people have different comfort levels for sharing feedback. Other examples of encouraging growth include setting clear budgets for professional development and taking time for annual team retreats that allow for reflection and adjustment.

Building in these structural tactics from the start help ensure that your team — and you as a leader — will continue to strengthen your skill sets despite the seasonal demands that emerge. 

Stop doing everything yourself. 

Despite the media’s obsession with big personalities, many of the strongest, most efficient, and most effective teams are run by leaders who are just as comfortable outside of the spotlight. In baseball terms, these leaders are the catcher, who from an understated position observe the entire field and game in context and who signals plays to their team. Like a catcher in baseball, the best leaders understand the value of division of labor, that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. This includes embracing the boundaries of their own role and assigning tasks according to the best use of team resources … yes, even if they’re tempted to just do it all themselves. 

To show competence, these leaders focus on what they bring to the table for their team: strengths in managing people, creating a functional and collaborative team structure, and knowing when to stay out of the way. Instead of continually looking over their staff’s shoulders and dictating steps, they give talented people the space needed to do their jobs well.

Adopting this big-picture approach to your own leadership role will unlock efficiencies for your team and help build your confidence in the critical job you were hired to do.

The bottom line is that a perfect leader is far from perfect themselves — and they like it that way. If you’re feeling anxious about your new leadership role, you can’t go wrong by committing to a culture of self-awareness, one that values everyone’s strengths and their weaknesses to build a team that takes the ability to reach goals to a whole new level. 

To learn more about gathering insights on your team’s strengths, check out our data-driven leadership assessments.

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