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A Sign of Great Leadership? It’s Not About Correcting Mistakes, It’s About This One Trait

Letting other people fail? Sure, and you can start by accepting that you are prone to fail as well.

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BY John Brandon - 07 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Are you known as a fixer at your company? If so, here's a tough lesson to learn. That's only half the battle when it comes to leader others. Fixing problems and addressing your own mistakes puts you in a class of people who are merely responding and adjusting. That makes you a good leader. Great leaders go a big step further then fixing. They know how to encourage everyone else to be a fixer as well. In fact, they create an atmosphere of "fixing"--an iterative process that hinges on emotional intelligence.

What does that mean in real life? For anyone who excels at leadership, you do more than fix problems. You figure out how to teach everyone on your team to be a fixer. You don't need to swoop in and solve issues for everyone. You have an entire team of problem-solvers. To make that happen, you have to exhibit a trait that goes beyond fixing. It's an attitude of openness and grace, an outlook that says everyone is fallible--even you.

Here's a personal example.

It turns out that, even after 30 years in the workforce, I'm far from perfect. Who knew? When I first started leading teams back in the 90s I figured I'd have overcome a few issues by now. I wouldn't respond in bitterness to my colleagues. I would have conquered this issue of seeking power and success. I'd be able to overlook an offense.

Well, not so much. At the same time, I've "adulted" (to use a Millennial word) enough to at least go with the punches, even if some of them are self-inflicted or even imagined. When bad things happen at work, I don't react quite as much, mostly because I know I'm dealing with humans and not mindless robots who respond to a commands. I do get offended at times. Yet, my reactions are different now than they were years ago.

That creates a less hostile work environment. More importantly, it shows my own fallibility. It's perfectly normal to get offended. My problem early on as a corporate leader had more to do with not having an attitude that everyone fails once in awhile. We all have bad days. The curious thing about my own development in leadership is that is matched up perfectly with my own development in emotional intelligence. As my empathy for others grew, so did my leadership skills. I started to see people as highly capable and yet highly flawed.

And, I started seeing myself as highly capable and highly flawed.

I've written about this before, but a sign or great leadership is the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses in others and then accept them. I'm also learning that this applies to the perceptions I have about myself. The more I know about myself, the better I'm able to work around my own shortcomings and lead more effectively.

The most wonderful thing about this change in me is that I am able to accept people for who they are now and who they will become, mostly because I've accepted myself--and who I am now and who I will become. We're all a work in progress. As a leader, you have to figure out how much grace to extend to others. It's a fine line. You have to have high expectations and low expectations at the same time. You have to encourage and correct at the same time. You have to learn how much to fix and how much to let go. When you find that balance, you have figured out what leadership means. Then, you have to create that mindset and encourage that view across the entire team. That's the hard part.

Really, this is where openness comes in. Ask yourself if you are really open to accepting where employees are at in their own development. Looking in the mirror can help. Are you perfect? Do you have everything figured out? In the balance of expectations you have for employees, you also need to add a heavy dose of grace. Be a champion for your employees in terms of what they have accomplished and what they can accomplish.

Then, create an environment that says you can try and fail.

If you do all of this, will you let me know?