The Myth of the Perfect Leader

Henry-Ford-next-to-Model-T-1921-From-the-Collections-of-The-Henry-Ford-1024x804We all tend to live with the mindset that our leader is perfect.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the president of the United States or your Fire Officer, as long as we maintain the myth that he’s (or she’s) perfect, the easier we breathe. But anyone who has life experience knows that there is no such thing as a perfect leader.

Here are 5 myths of the perfect leader as I see them.  Acknowledging these myths can help you empathize with leadership, and help you avoid being disillusioned by their perceived “weaknesses”. Recognizing these “imperfections” in yourself will also help you realize that in many ways they bolster your leadership ability, and  certainly should not preclude you from leadership roles.

#1 Perfect Leaders Never Fail

History is filled with leaders who have failed, and failed miserably at first but later went on to accomplish great things. Not everyone who’s on top today got there with success after success. More often than not, those who history best remembers were faced with numerous obstacles that forced them to work harder and show more determination than others.   Henry Ford was known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, but he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company. Walt Disney is another great example. Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a bit of a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last too long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. He kept plugging along, however, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked.  Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize, was twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom but wasn’t always as well regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and failed the sixth grade. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62. keep these famous people in mind and remind yourself that sometimes failure is just the first step towards success, and that fear of failure is what holds many people back.

#2 Perfect Leaders are Liked By Everyone

Any good leader will have his share of detractors.  When you speak your mind, or are in the position of having to say “no”, more often than not there will be people who do not like you for it.  It’s important for anyone in leadership to be aware of this, and nonetheless be kind to everyone.

#3 Perfect Leaders are Not Afraid

We are all afraid of something.  Good leaders,however, don’t let fear guide their decisions but rather, they guide the fear. To use fear to your advantage, you must embrace it and know it’s there with you. The question is what we do about it. Don’t be afraid to embrace your fears and recognize that even the best leaders, even though they may not express it, have their own fears.

#4 Perfect Leaders do not Show Weaknesses

In the world we live in today, showing any sign of weakness is a weakness. Yet it is often the honesty and transparency of a leader that makes him great.  Vulnerability is not a weakness. We like to follow leaders who reveal cracks in their own armour.  It helps us find common ground. Revealing struggles shows humility on the part of the leader.  Humility is always attractive.

#5 Perfect Leaders are Not Hurt by Words

The truth is that no matter what your role is in this life, words can be painful. They can be cutting. They can destroy you, even if you’re a great leader. Leaders need affirmation too.  Sometimes we think our leaders are impervious to criticism.  This is rarely the case, but it just shows that they are human beings just like you and I.

There simply is no such thing as the perfect leader.  In fact, having imperfections in many ways uniquely qualifies you for leadership.  It is important to consider these points as to not disqualify yourself for leadership just because you are “imperfect”.   It is also helpful to keep the perfection myth in mind when you consider the leaders and role models in your own life.  Don’t let their imperfections lead you to become disillusioned with them.  Instead, realize that those imperfections can indeed be great strengths and embrace them.

3 thoughts on “The Myth of the Perfect Leader

  1. Rob, Thanks for this piece. It nicely summarizes points I have been making of late in my own blog at http://www.elsleadership.com. Please check it out. It reminds me too of a comments a very good friend of mine made about friendship. He said that a friend can only disappoint you if you have personal expectations of him or her. We become disappointed with our leaders when they do not meet our expectations. But, I wonder how often it is that that actually committed to meeting those expectations. I fear that too often, we have simply crowned them with our expectations, then criticized them because they do not wear that crown well. Ed

    • Great points Ed. I think it’s important that we keep our expectations reasonable, particularly for those who are close to us. Expectations that are too lofty and unreasonable, it seems to me, would spell disaster for a close friendship.

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