Your Leaders Will Fail

My 11 year old occasionally gets frustrated by his homework.

He’s a bright kid, and that’s the problem. For as long as he’s been in school, school has come easy to him. He can usually look at a problem and immediately see the solution. It often requires very little effort on his part.  Of course, not every problem is easy and that’s when things get difficult. The relaxed, often quiet, homework time turns to tears and frustration. This is usually when I tell him that not everything will come easy, and that effort is sometimes more important than talent.

Struggle is a Part of Success

You see, he’s learning that struggle is a part of success. It’s an important, yet painful, lesson.

It’s also a lesson that we discuss at Shafer Leadership Academy. Often those who strive towards leadership lean towards perfectionism. The kind of people who want to take charge in the office, improve their community, or better the world, are typically the kind of people who believe that with enough grit, preparation, and control, the world can be bent to their will. They sometimes fall to the seductive notion that all problems can be prevented with enough foresight, and that any mistake reflects a lack of preparation, intelligence, or control.   

If only the world truly worked that way.

Good Plans are Disposable

Some of the best advice I ever received was to make a plan but be prepared to throw that plan away at a moment’s notice.  This is not easy for me, as I am a planner. I like schedules, timelines, calendars, and creating Facebook events just to hang out with friends. I’ve had goals since I was five. Yet, my life has been full of surprising, and often rewarding, curveballs.  Some of those curveballs have resulted in my swinging and missing (usually big!). Others I hit out of the park. You win some, you lose some.

The implication for leadership is that our leaders, being human, are not perfect. They will error in judgement, intention, evaluation, and implementation. They will do these things, because they are more like us than we care to admit. We want leaders who are exceptional in every way, when the truth is that even the best leaders are fortunate to be exceptional in even a handful of ways.

This is not a call for a mediocrity, nor is a philosophy that asks us to unquestioningly accept every flaw a leader may have. It simply means that when we consider our leaders, or ourselves, we acknowledge that failure will be a part of success. It calls us to recognize that in the act of striving we stumble, and that we should seek leaders who are the kind of people who rise after the fall. It is the plain recognition that we are human, and the glory of humanity lies not in our perfection but in the indomitable spirit of persistence.

A More Perfect You

The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States refers to forming “a more perfect union.” The Declaration of Independence states that we all have the right to pursue happiness. Each of these phrases are aspirational, and each of these phrases imply that both forming a union, and achieving happiness, are pursuits, not necessarily destinations. The point isn’t that our union, or community, will ever be perfect, nor that our happiness will ever be complete, but that we endeavor to accomplish these things.

Some homework problems are harder to solve than others, including the ones plaguing our community. We need value-oriented leaders who are not only unafraid to tackle these problems, but also expect to fail as they do so. We also need communities who recognize that sometimes a better measure of leadership is overcoming adversity, rather than avoiding failure. Rather than looking for the right answers maybe we should ask ourselves if we are moving in the right direction. We may be surprised at what we find once we get there.

Shafer Leadership Academy wants to help you become a “more perfect” you.

Click here to see our upcoming opportunities. 

About the author:

Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways.  Learn more about Mitch »