Embracing our flaws to become better leaders

Patrick Egan, Chief Executive Officer

In the face of crisis and uncertainty, a new breed of leader is rising. We’re entering the era of flawed leadership. An era in which we can be honest and human. Say we don’t have all the answers. But, assure people that we’re working towards a solution together.

Recently, I read a quote from author Augusten Burroughs: “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” And, it made me think how true this is of all of us and how it can be used to inspire strong leadership.

In the past, leaders have been cautious of admitting their fallibility, that sometimes we don’t have all the answers. Some years ago, while in the military, I learned the command and control model of leadership. Authoritative and top-down, it made clear who was in charge, but left little space for empathy.

Nevertheless, it is a model that has been held up as a paradigm. If you ask people to name strong leaders, the likes of Churchill, Ataturk, and Roosevelt always come up. Increasingly, however, people also say Ardern, Mandela, and Obama. It is their style of leadership that I believe is the route to progression.

These leaders have been human in the face of crises; admitting their flaws and using their principles to guide solutions. This is not the same as bumbling along, stuttering over solutions, but instead being decisive in taking actions powered by intent.

New Zealand president Jacinda Ardern has gained global praise for her speedy response to the coronavirus pandemic. She was quick to lockdown, while being honest and direct in her communications. In a press conference in May, she thanked her “team of five million” for acting together to lower the infection rate. Perhaps as a result of this, she is the country’s most popular leader in 100 years, according to a recent poll, with almost 92% of respondents saying they support the measures she has taken.

As Charlotte Goodman, director of people and purpose at Virgin Group, says: “Fundamentally, the world doesn’t have time to wait for anyone to become perfect. Leaders need to be alert, transparent and consultative in their approach. Apologise when you screw things up, but be heroic in your recovery. People are happy to go on the journey with you. They want to see that you are agile and trying to get better every day.”

Currently, while 86% of businesses have a purpose statement, according to Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Tracker, 83% have yet to consider what this means across departments or set clear team targets. This is a concerning stat, but by embracing flaws, as well as being clear about intent, leaders can guide others towards real change, not only within organisations, but also within communities and the wider world.

While 86% of businesses have a purpose statement, 83% have yet to consider what this means across departments or set clear team targets

This is something that is increasingly important to people, especially in light of COVID-19. They expect brands and businesses to act with strength and empathy. They don’t expect them to be perfect or to have all the answers. As a leader, be guided by empathy, rather than mistaking it for showing up and taking action.

Embracing flawed leadership:

Flaws aren’t bad, they’re human. Uncertainty isn’t bad, it’s life. There is no “new normal”. We’re living in an age of constant transition. Acknowledging this honestly and authenticly means we can lead others to grow into the spaces created by change.