Wishy-Washy Leadership! How To Tell If You’re Too Inclusive

Indecisive Leadership

Today, many leaders are suffering from too inclusive of a leadership style. They look to their team to vote on direction, try to balance everyone’s needs, and do their best not to upset anyone.

This is not leadership!

Wishy-Washy Leadership

This desire to include everyone can translate into a high “affiliation motive.”  This high need to be liked results in the leader making decisions to appease each person. The result is that no one on the team is happy with the manager.

They see their leader as weak and wishy-washy because they make too many exceptions to accommodate every team member’s wish.

Consistency of direction and purpose erodes.

Effective Leadership

To be effective as a leader you need a two power motives. The first is “Personalized Power” and the second is “Socialized Power.”  Personalized power is also referred to as “ego.” Although there are many articles telling leaders that ego is something to be avoided this isn’t true.

Leaders need to have a healthy level of ego or desire for personal power to be effective.

It is this ego that makes a leader believe he or she is good enough to rise above the ordinary and to lead a group a people in a direction. That leader has to have enough confidence to believe they have chosen the right direction even though there is no guarantee of success. This takes guts and a willingness to take risks; it takes ego.

No one wants to follow a leader that doesn’t exude confidence.

In a Harvard Business Review article by David C. McClelland and David H.  Burnham entitled “Power is the Great Motivator” the authors shared research showing that:

…an important determining factor of high team morale and outcomes was related to a leader’s need for power being higher than their need to be liked.

Getting Things Straight

This is not to say that leaders shouldn’t have some desire to be liked. An absence of this need would create a sociopath and too little in a leader would result in the personal power taking over and the leader becoming the uncaring egotist or abuser.

The affiliation motive needs to be present but the need for personalized power must be higher.

The authors also found a second power motive that was attributed to the most effective leaders –  socialized power. Socialized power is the desire to use your power to do what is best for the organization.

The most effective power profile is highest in socialized power, has a moderate level of personalized power and a lower need to be liked.  The research demonstrated that this profile results in the best revenue results, clarity of purpose and direction and teams with high morale and personal responsibility.

Front End Alignment

Here are some tips to get your power profile back in alignment by growing the power pair:

1) Use Consultative Decision Making

Instead of consensus take the team members’ opinions and views into consideration and then set a decisive course of action.

2) Question Your Motives

Are you pushing your point of view because you believe it is what is best for the organization, best for your group, best for you or you just want to be right?

3) Demonstrate Consistency

Company policies and guidelines are in place to help you maintain consistency when people ask for special favors.  It’s okay if the employee doesn’t like you for your response. You’re their manager, not their friend.

4) Think of the Bigger Picture

Your job as a leader is to keep the business profitable so it can continue to employ the great people who work for you. If you give in to each employee’s requests without considering the impact to business you hurt everyone in the long run.

Leaders and companies need to remember there is a critical balance between creating an inclusive workplace and enabling leaders to lead.

What other tips would you offer to keep leaders’ power properly balanced?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Carlann Fergusson

Carlann Fergusson is owner at Propel Forward LLC
She provides seminars and consulting on Strategic Leadership Challenges
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Skype: carlann.fergusson

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Managing Up by Speaking Up

Managing Up

Managing your job and career can be difficult at times. And one of the biggest difficulties for many is managing one element that is often found to be the linchpin in one’s career: the boss.

Many people disconnect from this element because of fear, perceived backlash, or they just were never told to do this.

“Managing up” is one of the best ways to ensure a happier, healthier, and more satisfying career because it puts more control in your hands.

Imagine This:

You’re attending a staff meeting and your boss is recognizing a peer for the great work their team did on a pretty routine project. Your team recently successfully completed a very difficult phase of a project but there is no mention of your team’s accomplishments.

You start that old self-talk in your brain, “My boss plays favorites. My boss doesn’t understand my area and everything that goes into completing a job successfully. They underappreciate me and my team!”

You’re busy pointing the finger at your boss, but in the majority of cases YOU are the owner of the problem.

Not Managing Up

Many managers make the mistake of not managing their boss.  They don’t think about it or are not clear how to do it. They simply take their own point of view and never give a chance to think how the boss might be thinking. They forget that the boss can also forget.

Think about this:

How is your boss supposed to know everything that went into a job to make it successful or how many barriers you had to overcome to finish that project by the deadline if you don’t tell them?

Even if the boss had your role prior to being promoted, they probably won’t remember all the details about the effort something took.  Think back to a project you did several years ago that you are really proud of. Do you remember all the pain points you overcame? Chances are the details of the effort are fuzzy but the results and feelings of accomplishment are vivid.

I Can’t Hear You

One key to managing your boss is how you use your one-on-one meetings with them. Here are some key differences in how two managers share project status:

The Underappreciated Manager and The Golden Manager

Underappreciated Manager

  • Status to due dates
  • Key activities
  • Problems and plans to address problems
Golden Manager

  • Key accomplishments by team members
  • Emphasis of areas that took extra effort by team members
  • Problems or potential barriers team identified and successfully addressed
  • Status to due dates with any plans to either accelerate plan or get project back on plan
  • Recognitions by key stakeholders of work to date
  • Problems and plans to address problems

The Underappreciated Manager might look at the Golden Manager’s approach and feel that the meeting with the boss has turned into a bragging session. It is! But the manager is bragging about how great their team members are or how some key stakeholders really helped them out – not about how great he or she is.

Certainly, there may be times when the manager brags about their own contribution, but the intent is on helping their boss understand the overall effort so they can appreciate the results better.

The Golden Manager recognizes that their performance is measured by how well their team does.

If the team does great, then the manager must be doing something right.

Tell Me a Story

The tone of these two meetings is also very different. In the Underappreciated Managers meeting with the boss, the manager ticks through projects and their status as if they were going through bullet points in a presentation.

In the Golden Manager’s meeting there may be some quick updates but key points are told as stories. You hear things being said like: “Kathy did an amazing job of getting the Senior VP of Manufacturing to support our project.  She….” and the story unfolds.

Short stories of accomplishments are powerful. They paint a picture of the difficulties and the accomplishments.

They star your team members as the heroes.

Good short stories engage your manager at an emotional level. The next staff meeting or meeting with his or her boss, your boss is much more likely to remember your story over any bullet points.

Your boss then ends up sharing those same stories with their manager and a very positive impression of you as a leader is formed.  Your accomplishments also enable your boss to look good because their success is also based on their direct reports accomplishments.

It’s a win-win.

Don’t Forget the Drive-Thru

When you have a really great accomplishment your proud of. Don’t wait till the next formal meeting with your boss. Go by your boss’s office and say, “Got a minute? I want to share some exciting news with you.”

Then tell the short story with pride in your voice.  If your boss is hard to reach – send an email titled “Great accomplishment by team” and write that short story.

Boss’s always have time for great news. Click to Tweet This

Ask for Recognition

Ask your boss for recognition. Not for you but for your team. If the team did something major, ask your boss if they’d be willing to send an e-mail congratulating the team members involved. If your boss has been bragging to their boss about your team you will even see that they copy their boss.

Everyone ends up being golden!

Managing your boss is a major differentiator between being a great manager and being a great manager on the succession plan. Unfortunately many managers are so focused on the team and work they forget this critical skill and wonder why they were passed over.

So, how are you doing at managing your job and career by managing up with your boss? Have you tried this before? Was it more difficult, or easier than you thought? What else have you done to help your job and your team’s jobs by managing up? I would love to hear your stories!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Carlann Fergusson

Carlann Fergusson is owner at Propel Forward LLC
She provides seminars and consulting on Strategic Leadership Challenges
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Skype: carlann.fergusson

Image Sources: pulsebydnk.com

Hey Leader: Whose Expectations Are You Trying to Meet?


Sometimes, a question can strike you with such clarity that it remains with you for life.

The following question was posed to me early in my management career and is one that has provided deep insight up until this day:

“Whose expectations are you trying to meet?”

The Super Syndrome

After another exhausting week, I attended a community seminar based on the Superwoman Syndrome by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz. this seminar’s topic referred to women holding themselves to unrealistic expectations to simultaneously be the best career women, mothers, spouses, community members , etc.

Today it could easily be the Superman & Superwoman Syndrome as advertising and media routinely throws images of being the best parent, partner, leader, global conscious servant, etc. Just look at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

If they can raise their kids, solve world issues, be block buster professionals and stand by each other why can’t we all?

Just forget that they are exhausted and have a few personal challenges.

Getting Really Real

Eventually Something Has to Give

At work everyone wants something from you: your boss, your peers, internal customers, external customers, the Board, the stockholders.

They all act as if “No” is not an option.

But in the real world, if you treat all their expectations as equal, then you will most certainly burn out and never meet many of your stated goals. The old adage “you can’t please everyone” is true.

If you try to meet everyone’s expectations at least one of those attempts will result in lower than anticipated quality and both of you won’t be feeling too great about the outcome.

If you can’t physically and mentally do it all, what is going to move to a lower priority? If you let your stakeholders define this for you, you will continue in the land of the tyranny of the urgent. Whatever is the next thing screaming for attention will get your time.

Gaining Real Focus

Stop the Spinning

If you are already spinning from the long list of things you supposedly “have to do,” then your response to my advice to take time to analyze your work is going to be “but I don’t have time.”

Which is more painful; making time to narrow your focus and be able to say “no” to some requests, or continuing to spin at the pace you are at?

In all likelihood if you continue without taking a more strategic view your pace of spinning will increase because the number of people asking you for support will increase. By always saying “yes” you have reinforced them and others that you will always be there to help regardless of the request.

You have essentially created your own problem.

Getting Real Results

Get Out the Pen and Paper

List all the activities you are doing and the ones you anticipate doing this year.

  • Which of these services, products, activities are essential to the company meeting it’s vision?
    • Which of these am I the sole source for (no one else in the company can provide this)?
  • Which activities, products, services are not related to the vision?
    • What drives me to provide each of these activities, products or services?
    • What could happen if I stopped providing these?
      • What would really happen if I stopped providing these (75%+ confidence that it would occur)?
    • What could I, my key stakeholders and my company gain if I stopped these activities?
      • Which of these gains are of higher value than the activity itself?  (this will serve as your compelling reason to stop offering this service or support)

Gaining Real Perspective

Letting Go

If you are still reluctant to take something off your plate that is not of high value, ask yourself these questions:

  • What personal need(s) does providing this service or activity fulfill?
  • What makes this need so compelling for me?
  • Is there another way to fulfill this need with the more critical activities, products or services?

Here is a great example:

Jack is in a support function. He spends 2 hours each week in one of his key stakeholders staff meetings. He started attending to learn more about the stakeholder’s business and to be present in case some need related to his function was raised. Rarely does this need show up. He already has learned about his stakeholder’s business but he keeps attending for reasons of visibility, status and perceived customer service.

After doing the exercise he realizes that spending the 2 hours each week on the projects directly tied to the vision, will bring him greater visibility. He talks to the senior leader about his rationale for no longer attending and offers to sets up a 15-minute monthly check in meeting to ensure their needs are met.

Three months later, Jack’s increased quality and creativity on the strategic project is gaining him visibility at the executive level and meeting his personal desire for greater status.

Gaining Real Satisfaction

Expectations vs. Vision

Shifting from trying to meet everyone’s expectations to meeting the company’s vision and your personal vision will keep you a valued asset to the business and yourself.

Whenever someone asks you to do something, instead of immediately answering yes, respond that you need time to assess priority.

So how has this process, or something similar, or something different helped you to manage your time and energy? Have you changed to become more realistic in setting appropriate expectations? What can you do in the future to better examine your personal set of expectations and use that model to better understand and help others? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Carlann Fergusson

Carlann Fergusson is owner at Propel Forward LLC
She provides seminars and consulting on Strategic Leadership Challenges
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Skype: carlann.fergusson

Image Sources: nathanjmorton.files.wordpress.com

Racing Out The Door? Try Shifting Gears


Do you think about trying to find a better job? One that gives you time to think. One where you can feel better about yourself. One that doesn’t feel like a rat race or a rat trap.

So what happened to that honeymoon period when you first took the job?

How did your elation about your new role and your telling everyone that you found the perfect job fall by the wayside?

Starting Your New Job

Utopia: Time & Confidence

When you were hired, people gave you time to think and learn. Your employees, peers and bosses were patient because you were on a learning curve. Even though you might have felt like you weren’t sure about what you were doing in this new environment, your confidence was high.

You knew you had just beat out all those other applicants for this position.

Those that interviewed and selected you also had confidence in you. You had swayed them that you were the best candidate and they weren’t about to second guess their brilliant choice.

NeuYear Calendar

The BEST Calendar for 2013

Finding Second Gear

A Very Scruffy White Rabbit

Then the learning curve period was over. Welcome to the real job where you’re multi-tasking at a crazy pace. Your position is actually doing the equivalent of several jobs. You are not just the manager – you are a key specialist. You don’t just oversee one function – you oversee a combination of teams.

Do more with less. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Do-Do-Do. You’re late, you’re late, you’re late.

There’s no time to think. You find yourself constantly dragged into the tactical and missing time to be strategic. You can’t think of the last time you were brilliantly creative because there is no time for pondering, brainstorms or experimentation. You suddenly realize this is not your best work. With the crazy pace, you may even have made a couple of errors that are very uncharacteristic for you.

Let’s add to that. Your bosses and peers are also working at this relentless pace. They need your answers now. You don’t have the bandwidth to get everyone what they want. Someone has got to wait. But now this waiting person starts losing confidence in you. You feel this behavioral message. Click – you’ve lost more of your confidence and your starting to feel like a very scruffy version of the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

Stop & Breathe!

 How do you get off this treadmill without jumping to another company who probably has similar challenges?

Putting It Into Neutral

Be Clear What is Urgent and What is Important

Steven Covey’s Urgent and Important matrix from his book First Things First is a great tool.

Important and Urgent Graph

If you are spending most of your time on the urgent but not finding time for the “important and not urgent”, where strategy, prevention and improvements occur, you will have problems. Block time on your calendar to work in this quadrant and find that time to think.

To reduce the amount of work falling into the urgent quadrant be clear on who is defining it as urgent.

If it does not tie back to the mission or vision of the business then it is not urgent. The production line going down is urgent. The employee opinion survey being a week later than some Senior VP wanted is not.

Use the matrix to help manage your boss and key stakeholders. I used a modified version of this matrix as a monthly update on what my teams were working on. Each stakeholder believes their request is urgent and important but when they see it compared to the other mission critical requests being worked, they understand why theirs fell into the moderately important or moderately urgent. Managing upwards allows you to control much of your time and confidence perception issues.

Maintaining the Right Pace

Get Your Confidence Back

You are even more amazing than when you first started.

If you lose your confidence, you’ll start projecting all your insecurities onto your team, peers or boss. They may be already doing that to you so be careful what you start believing. List your strengths. If you were going to leave this job and start with a new company what strengths would you sell them?  In my workshops and coaching I often find leaders hold themselves to unrealistic standards .

In this fast paced, high-tech and low-connectivity workplace, chances are you are not the only one under-appreciated.

Like Ken Blanchard said in this quick video clip in the One Minute Manager “Catch people doing things right” – and let them know. Appreciation is a contagious act. People are much more likely to appreciate others once they’ve been appreciated. If you start the process it will spread to others and will probably even come back to you.

Appreciate yourself first and you will find you have the energy to appreciate others.

You might even find yourself appreciating where you work.

What other tips would you add? i would love to hear your advice!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Carlann Fergusson

Carlann Fergusson is owner at Propel Forward LLC
She provides seminars and consulting on Strategic Leadership Challenges
Email | LinkedIn | TwitterWeb | Skype: carlann.fergusson

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On Leadership, Delegation and Whack-a-Mole

Whack A Mole Game

Delegating is a difficult skill to master. Many leaders make it to high levels in their careers and within organizations without ever mastering this skill. And this can be a big problem!

Someone recently asked “Why are some executives so poor at delegating?

On Delegation and Details

We expect that executives should know how to effectively delegate by the time they have gotten to a senior level.

But like any skill, position level has little to do with it any one person mastering the skill of delegation.

When the nature of the work reinforces an executive into thinking that they need to have direct knowledge of every detail of the work, poor delegation will follow.

Let the Games Begin

Whack a Mole with a Telephone

Manufacturing and retail industries are two examples where executives are driven to focus on the details. Each area of the business must focus on key levers of running the day-to-day operations to ensure the entire system is running smoothly.

It can easily become a game of “whack-a-mole.”

The executive quickly addresses the latest issue that pops up and then prepares for the next to pop. Instead of a padded mallet however, the executive has a phone or email.

The executive quickly calls their direct report responsible giving a too brief synopsis of the issue and an order to “take care of it immediately.”  The direct report who has been through this too many times knows not to ask questions but to say “Yes, consider it done.”

He or she then runs off to quickly band-aid the situation. Both the executive and the direct report move quickly anticipating the next mole to pop.

Success is the illusion that everything is running smoothly.

Lacking an Important Skill

You Obviously Don’t Know How to Wield a Hammer

This conditioned response can lead to a bipolar style of delegation. First, it may appear the executive is trusting the manager to do his or her job by giving just the essence of the issue and then allowing the manager to proceed in his/her best judgment.

However, if the manager does not solve the situation to the executive’s unstated expectations, the executive often pendulum swings to the other side of delegation and micro-manages. The executive may assume the manager can’t be trusted or doesn’t have the knowledge or skill needed to be effective.

All of this back-and-forth interaction unfortunately often drags the executive back down into the day-to-day operations.

Missing the Mark

An Ego or Victim Trip

The more their managers miss the undefined mark, the more the executive believes that he or she is the only capable person to run the business.

This reinforces their belief that they must personally “be on top of every detail” in order to be successful.

This may appear as an ego trip; with the executive thinking they are the only one intelligent enough to figure it all out. But it may be more of a victim trip? “Poor me, look at how busy I am – I have to take on the burden of running this company single-handedly.”

Our mind-talk can end up being our worst enemy.

Regardless of ego or victim trip, how does a leader get out of this trap?

Building a Better Mole Trap

Creating Ways to Delegation Success

When something goes wrong with delegation, the key to overcoming this is to focus on the performance discrepancy instead of the manager’s deficiency.

An easy way to see if you are part of the problem is to ask some questions spurred from Robert Mager and Peter Pipe’s thinking in Analyzing Performance Problems:

  • Are my expectations crystal clear?
  • Have I clearly defined what success should look like?
  • Could my manager/employee do what I am wanting (not necessarily asking if my expectations are unclear) if their career depended on it? If the answer is yes, then it is not an issue of lack of skill or knowledge.
  • If they could do it but are not, what other factors could be causing the issue? (e.g. lack of resources, conflicting goals, lack of quality measures, misaligned consequences)

When I’ve asked myself these questions, I can often stop at the first, realizing that while rushing around I wasn’t as clear as I could have been.

Time to call Mole Busters

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Unless you take the time to find the mole’s breeding ground, you are stuck containing individual moles along the network of paths they have created.

To effectively delegate, the leader must slow down to speed up. But slowing down is something very counterintuitive to their daily “whack-a-mole” conditioning and counter to the staffing algorithms so often used that don’t allocate time for addressing strategic issues.

Consider the time that will be saved in frustration, re-work and micro-managing problems and then ask yourself if you can make the  time to lead your staff in an analysis of reoccurring issues.

Which exterminator would you rather hire?:

  • Killing moles one-at-a-time for over 25 years
  • Eliminating your mole problem at the source

When you look at it this way, it becomes a cost and time savings to go to the root of the issue.

What other tips do you have to avoid blindly digging yourself into a hole of delegating ineffectively?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Carlann Fergusson

Carlann Fergusson is owner at Propel Forward LLC
She provides seminars and consulting on Strategic Leadership Challenges
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Skype: carlann.fergusson

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Leading Expectations: “Was it Something I Said?”


I was listening to a woman tell us how she returned home to find her kitchen a mess and her husband with his right hand in a bowl covered with  brownie mix up to his elbow.

She said in an agitated tone, “Just what are you doing?

He sheepishly replied “I was trying to surprise you for your birthday by making brownies.”

OK,” she says calming down, “but that doesn’t explain why your hand is covered in batter.”

Her logical husband answered defensively “Well it was all going fine, until I got to the part in the directions that said ‘Beat 50 strokes by hand.'”

Setting Clear Expectations

As managers we know that one of the most important aspects of our job is to set clear expectations for our employees. Seems simple enough, but how often does this go wrong? As a former HR Manager, I dealt with many managers who were ready to fire someone for doing something wrong.

My first question was “Did you make the expectations clear?” Often the desire to fire ended there.

Likewise, I ask myself that question when getting ready to assume that someone “just doesn’t get it.”  In today’s workplace that simple skill is even more important.

Going Global: Table the Discussion

I’m leading a discussion with a cross-functional global team and it’s a pretty heated discussion about why a part failed. It is a critical, complex discussion so we have flown the team members into headquarters. A manager from Ireland brings up an issue that is indirectly related to the topic.

Being a skilled facilitator I say “Let’s table that discussion.”

The rest of the team gets back to the main topic but this Irish man interjects with his issue. Another manager from England joins his conversation. I keep bringing it back to the main topic, but the Irish and English managers keep returning to the tangential topic.

Very quickly, the team is getting frustrated.

I stop the discussion and say to the Irish manager “I thought we agreed to table that discussion.”

He answers “Me, too.”

I add “Then why do you keep bringing it up?

He responds “Because you told me to table the discussion.”

A bit confused (but with a light starting to go off in my ‘jumping to conclusions’ brain), I ask “What does ‘table it’ mean to you?”

He explains that it means to immediately bring the topic up for discussion.

The laughter in the room starts and I apologize and explain that in the United States to “table a discussion” means to set the topic aside for a later discussion.  Now we are all laughing and sharing our global experiences of trying to communicate with one another.

This can be fun, but it also can go bad quickly!

Morale of this story:

  • Define the meanings of the terms you use
  • Avoid idioms, jargon, and colloquialisms
  • Be very careful of your own assumptions

In a Rush? Text It

Having been a Labor Relations Manger, I got very skilled at scrutinizing emails before I sent them. I approached my email editing with this thought in my head:

“Is there any possible way that what I have written could be misconstrued?”

This discipline stayed with me as a habit and worked most times…. Except when I was in a rush.

Haste Makes Waste

A colleague and I had little time for lunch due to a rush project. I offer to pick something up while I am out running an errand. We decide on this great place but since it has such large portions we agree to get one to-go order and split it.

It’s now two hours since we planned this lunch and I’m in line to order. I decide I could eat more than half an order so I text my co-worker this:

“I’m hungry. You’re getting your own.”

He quickly responds “OK, leaving now to get chili.”

I quickly call him to apologize and explain my intent of placing two orders.

 Morale of the story:

  • A hurried e-mail or text can waste more time than it takes to recheck it for misinterpretation before sending
  • Always be clear of your intent
  • Don’t assume that because you’ve worked with someone for a long time that they will read your mind
  • The first time you read emotion in a text or email, pick up the phone to ensure your assumed tone of voice is correct. Before you call clear your mind of assumptions. When you do call use a calm, friendly voice.

To Err is Human

Of course it’s even funnier when we are not the ones making the error.

I’ll end with this story from Snoops Cake Talk.  A mortician found a card on flowers that were sent in honor of the deceased. Apparently the person placing the order asked the florist to “write ‘Rest in Peace’ on both sides. And if you can fit it in, ‘We’ll see you in eternity.’”

The card on the flowers said exactly that:

“Rest in Peace on both sides. And if you can fit it in, we’ll see you in eternity.”

I’ve Shared Mine, Now Share Yours

What are some examples you can share from your world of work? Please share the lesson learned as well! I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Carlann Fergusson

Carlann Fergusson is owner at Propel Forward LLC
She provides seminars and consulting on Strategic Leadership Challenges
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Skype: carlann.fergusson

Image Sources:  telegraph.co.uk

Leaders: Give Up Before You’re Perfect


How many of us have really screwed up as leaders?  How many of us know those were some of the very best lessons we will ever learn? 

If we know that learning by mistakes is a good thing, then why are there so many books, articles, and blogs about how to be perfect?

Imperfect Advice

Everywhere you turn there is well-meaning advice on how to get flawless leadership.

Here are a couple:  

5 Things Remarkable Bosses Never Do (Really? Never?)

5 Leadership Lessons from James T Kirk (I’m not kidding)

So what’s with this obsession with finding the recipe for the perfect leader?

Nobody’s Perfect, So Stop Trying

Nobody is perfect. No leader is perfect. And this okay.

No Failure ZoneOK, I’m not talking about the leaders out there who would benefit their teams by seeking professional help and perhaps some medication.

I am talking about the rest of the leaders who are striving (for perfection) at the expense of thriving (in their journey).

I have worked for and with some great leaders and I have come to the conclusion that no one is perfect – Not even me (I know, shocking!)

Case in Point…

Let’s take Andy Grove.  I worked for Intel for 10 years and this man is truly inspiring.  It was his ability to create a vision which catapulted me into leaving my job and joining Intel.

He challenged people to do their best, he was driven by process, and was a whiz at being both strategic and tactical.

He even had the same size cubicle the rest of us.

Another skill he possessed was the ability to call it out if we screwed up.  I remember I was giving a quarterly status update and we had had a major issue which was successfully addressed at the beginning of the quarter.

In Intel fashion of conducting a post-mortem, we even wrote a white paper enabling others to learn from our error.

I put the issue on the fourth slide of a 15-slide presentation and spoke to our most recent status first because I was thinking he’d be most interested on where we were today.

Well, he let me know both verbally and non-verbally that I should never hide the negatives by burying them in the presentation; the issue should have been on the first page.

I don’t recall me saying, “Hey Andy, I understand your concern, but you should have criticized me in private or at least asked me first what my intentions were.”

Instead, I do remember my hands breaking out in a sweat and me saying something eloquent like “Yes Sir, I understand.”

Authentic Leadership Brand

It’s alright that he wasn’t textbook perfect in his criticism of me.  My personal feeling didn’t REALLY matter that much in the big picture. What I knew from his behavior was this:

  • How much passion he had
  • How much he believed in getting issues out on the table
  • How much he cared that we got it right

He didn’t bring the mistake up again because he believed that once corrected, this mistake wouldn’t happen again; demonstrating trust.

He was an incredible leader, but not perfect. And this is okay.

Great Doesn’t Mean Perfect

This isn’t the Andy Grove you would have read about in books or articles.

Our stories of the great leaders put on pedestals have unintentionally made it impossible for any leader to be good enough. Our employees have read these same books and articles and think we should walk on water.

Sorry, but your manager is human.

Even executives buy into the perfectionism myth.  I’ve been in countless succession planning discussions and hours are spent picking at the imperfections of every internal leader who would be a candidate for promotion. And I’m not talking about candidates who have major development issues.

Often, this rallying around “they aren’t perfect yet” leads to an external hire being listed as the successor in hopes they can find the perfect person.

All of a sudden the person we don’t even know who has just as many human idiosyncrasies is better than the person we do know??? Um…..???

Think, people: Think People

We are willing to spend over $100,000 in recruitment, turnover, and lost productivity costs to find out that the external hire is also not perfect.

Q: What happens to the internal candidates we invested so much in? 

A: They leave because they are perfect for another company.

Makes me wonder if Andy Grove would make it through as a candidate in some succession planning discussions.

Stop Striving For Perfection

I’m all for striving to be the best – but realize the best is still not perfect and actually that is a good thing.  Maybe if we were perfect we would lack the pizzaz that makes us unique.

I’m a bit too passionate, a bit too visual, I get bored with too many details and I am dyslexic (which explains the visual).  But I have built cohesive teams, created compelling visions, brought teams and companies to incredible levels of performance and have helped other leaders do the same.

So what is it you want from me?  Oh, perfection.  In that case, let me give up now.

That pedestal is a bit too tall for me to reach.

How does your organization strive too hard for perfectionism and what are the costs? What is the impact on you as a leader in trying to meet other’s expectations of what perfect is? Where have you expected perfectionism from others and how has that worked for you? I would love to hear you thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Carlann Fergusson

Carlann Fergusson is owner at Propel Forward LLC
She provides seminars and consulting on Strategic Leadership Challenges
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Skype: carlann.fergusson

Image Sources: mommylife.net, timsackett.com


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