“Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror crack’d from side to side; ‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried The Lady of Shalott.” (From “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
We all enjoy reading the stories of the likes of Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, and others who in spite of their setbacks and failures overcame their obstacles. The names and their accomplishments are too numerous to mention in this space. Suffice to say, all such stories are inspiring and serve as a source of encouragement and how that no amount adversity can overtake us if we persevere.
But I’d like to address a more personal issue as it pertains to our leadership. We are familiar with the personal characteristics of leadership that we strive for such as integrity, loyalty, trust, etc. But how do we reconcile our desire to live up to these virtues of leadership while embracing our humanity at the same time?
John Maxwell said, “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” And this is the challenge of personal leadership. The question is not whether we will fail, have errors in judgment, offend people, or otherwise not live up to our best as a leader. In short- we’re human. So here are a few tips going forward as you look at that cracked mirror of leadership.
Embrace your humanity
By embracing your humanity you are acknowledging that you are not perfect. As such you are also acknowledging that you are vulnerable and susceptible to shortcomings like anyone else. But this is not meant to be an “out” for bad behavior. As such you should have safeguards in place and surround yourself with trusted confidants to hold you accountable.
Be quick to forgive
Hang around in leadership long enough and you will come to know the value of forgiveness. As a leader you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of criticism- fair or not. Life is just too short to hold grudges. In as much as you should forgive others their faults, be sure along the way to forgive yourself for the times you have blown it. And don’t be afraid to ask for it. When I understand the depth of forgiveness I need as a leader it’s much easier for me to look upon others through the lens of grace.
Keep the bar set high
That we as leaders may have come up short at times is no reason to lower the bar of excellence. Character still matters and striving to be better should be foremost in our endeavors. Don’t allow past mistakes to knock you off course. Don’t allow past failures to define you. Keep the bar set high and when you fall short don’t be discouraged. Your mistakes will overtake you only when you give up.
Some might argue that walking humbly as a leader does not fit into the modern definition or understanding of leadership. Walking humbly is not abdicating your authority as a leader or otherwise exerting weakness. If anything, it’s the opposite.
Rick Warren said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Walking humbly is living each day with an awareness of my humanity with the understanding of my dependence upon my faith to form me and my friends to complete me. It’s lived out when I realize the leader I want to be tomorrow is being shaped by my actions today. Do we fall short? Yes. But what we see in the cracked mirror is more bearable when we face the truth.
© 2015 Doug Dickerson