The importance of leaders accepting their weaknesses

November 6, 2019

Not surprisingly, many business leaders are not too keen on recognizing their own weaknesses.

After all, most got to where they are through a combination of confidence and self-assurance. Who wants to focus on their failings? However, that is exactly what business leaders need to do if their businesses are to grow and thrive.

The reason? No one person, no matter how entrepreneurial and visionary, has the talent and capacity to do it all. No one. We all have our weaknesses. Whether within a small business or a Fortune 100 company, the need for leaders to accept their weaknesses and trust in those around them is critical. The ramifications if leaders don’t can be dire.

“It can be a real domino effect when leaders don’t confront their weaknesses and refuse to look to others who have the skills and aptitude to get the job done,” says Cheryl Leitschuh, EdD, RCC, faculty member of the School of Business and Technology at Capella University. “Not only are those leaders more likely to drop the ball, but those around them will be frustrated. This can lead to increased turnover, decreased productivity, stagnant innovation, and worse.”

No one can do it all

It all starts with recognizing that you can’t do it all. Whether you founded the business or not, that is the first step to help identify your weaknesses and come up with a corrective course of action.

“Those who think they can do it all, or that they have all the answers, are ultimately arrogant and unrealistic,” Leitschuh says. “When they try to be that superhuman, it never works. It’s just not possible in today’s work world. There is too much change happening too fast. The stress eventually becomes overwhelming and systems will break down. That dysfunction will spread and the whole organization will suffer because of it.”

Alternatively, Leitschuh says that leaders who take the time to identify and accept their weaknesses can see immediate benefits, namely in being able to focus on their strengths and intentionally design their own work experience. They can delegate those tasks and responsibilities that are not personal strengths to others who have the talent and appetite to do those things. Everybody wins.

It goes beyond just finding the right people with the right skills to do the job, however. Leitschuh adds that it is also about finding joy and satisfaction in our work.

“Leaders should not deny themselves the joy of doing what they are good at and what they love,” Leitschuh says. “Work doesn’t have to be all drudgery and sacrifice. When we identify what we are not good at, often those are the things we don’t enjoy doing either. So, stop doing them. Find someone who does enjoy those tasks and excels at them.”

A war for talent

The good news is for leaders who still cling to a desire to try and do it all and have all the answers, the current tight labor market might make that impossible. Because the war for talent among organizations is so intense, and prospective employees are very much in the driver’s seat, leaders simply don’t have the option to be domineering when it comes to staffing.

“Only when a leader understands and embraces their weaknesses can they be truly intentional and thoughtful about whom they hire and why,” Leitschuh says. “You are only going to be able to hire the best people if you give them the power and authority to do their jobs without the boss second-guessing everything they do. A business simply can’t grow if it doesn’t have the right people in place. Employees need to be empowered to do what they are good at. That can’t happen if their leaders don’t let go.”

Look in the mirror

But where to start? It can be hard for driven, Type-A leaders to step back and give up that control, even when they are not good at it. Like so many things in life, it starts with looking in the mirror. Leaders at every level should regularly take time to think through what they are good at. What they enjoy doing. What causes them to pull their hair out. What they simply don’t get.

“You have to have the courage and maturity to be truthful with yourself, and that can be really hard,” Leitschuh says.

For those who have trouble being brutally honest with themselves, there are many online self-assessments that can help. Leitschuh recommends the strengths assessment from the VIA Institute on Character.

To further peel back the layers and unearth where a leader’s strengths and weaknesses lie, Leitschuh recommends that leaders talk to their peers. This can admittedly be tricky, and she advises to carefully select people you know will be honest with you and would appreciate such an exploration.

“Reach out to them more like a friend than a colleague,” Leitschuh suggests. “Unless they feel safe and comfortable in giving you the unvarnished truth, it won’t be a very helpful exercise.”

Baby steps

So you’ve taken the time to be introspective and look deep within. You’ve connected with your peers and those you trust to validate where you believe your weaknesses lie. Now what? It’s time to put those realizations and feedback into action.

“Remember, just having knowledge or information does not equal change,” Leitschuh says. “Change only happens when you develop an actionable plan that is not only doable but also accountable and simple.”

She makes the comparison of someone who has been out of shape for a while and decides to get healthy. That person likely won’t be successful if she wakes up one morning and decides to run a marathon that day. However, if she simply decides to walk around the block, she’s much more likely to make that happen. In a few days, that walk becomes two blocks with a jog added. Then, a 1/2 mile walk increasing to a run. You get the picture. Repeating and expanding upon simple actions over time can result in reaching the goal of running a marathon.

“Take baby steps, but keep up the momentum,” Leitschuh advises. “Build upon your successes and keep track of what you’ve done. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you don’t have to conquer all your weaknesses in a day either.”

Check in regularly

Finally, facing your weaknesses and developing a strategy to deal with them is not a one-time occurrence. It should be ongoing, or we run the risk of falling back into old bad habits. Check in with yourself regularly. Check in with those around you, too. Be honest with how you are doing, and pivot if needed. It’s a lifelong exercise.

“It’s all about progress, not perfection,” Leitschuh says. “One weakness that many of us share is to try to be perfect. Don’t. Do your best, celebrate your progress, and keep going. That’s all any of us can do.”

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