Celebrate the incomplete-human-leader

Celebrate the incomplete-human-leader

Drop the myth of the complete leader at the top who's got it all figured out. Only when leaders embrace seeing themselves as incomplete are they be able to make up for their missing skills by trusting others.

No one person can stay on top of everything. But the myth of the complete leader (and the fear of appearing incompetent) makes many leaders try to do just that, exhausting themselves and damaging their companies in the process. The incomplete leader, by contrast, knows when to let go: when to let those who know the local market do the marketing plan or when to let the engineering team run with its idea of what customers needs. The incomplete leader also knows that leadership exists throughout the ranks—wherever expertise, vision, new ideas, and commitment are found.

Top leaders, the thinking goes, should have the intellectual capacity to make sense of unfathomably complex issues, the imaginative powers to paint a vision of the future that generates everyone's enthusiasm, the operational know-how to translate strategy into concrete plans, and the interpersonal skills to foster commitment to undertakings that could cost people's jobs should they fail. Unfortunately, no single person can possibly live up to those standards.

The sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their companies will be. In today's world, the leader's job is no longer to command and control but to cultivate and coordinate the actions of others at all levels of the organization.

How many times have you faked confidence when you were unsure? Have you ever felt comfortable conceding that you were confused by the latest business results or caught off guard by a competitor's move? Would you ever admit to feeling inadequate to cope with the complex issues your company was facing? Anyone who can identify with these situations knows firsthand what it's like to be trapped in the myth of the complete leader—the person at the top without flaws. It's time to put that myth to rest, not only for the sake of frustrated leaders but also for the health of companies.

Even the most talented leaders require the input and leadership of others.

Inspired by: Harvard Business Review - In Praise of the Incomplete Leader, by Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, and Peter M. Senge