Unicorn #3: Successful Leaders Have High Character

All people are imperfect, including all leaders. Among people of every rank in every industry, no one bats 1.000 in terms of character. Just like in baseball, most are batting between .200 and .300. In other words, a leader who is “mostly” flawed may still go on to be celebrated with statues and holidays; and any leader who is celebrated with statues and holidays may well have been “mostly flawed.”

Furthermore, good leadership involves some essential virtues that are paired with matching vices: With consistency comes stubbornness; with passion comes fanaticism; with drive comes harshness.

Consider just one aspect of good character: Trustworthiness. Many gurus today say the leader must be trustworthy. But in truth, she doesn’t. We need our leaders to be reliable in certain actions and transactions. But expecting them to be trustworthy in some overall, cosmic sense is too much to expect of imperfect human beings.

It’s time to end the myth of the complete leader: the flawless person at the top who’s got it all figured out. In fact, the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be. In today’s world, the executive’s job is no longer to command and control but to cultivate and coordinate the actions of others at all levels of the organization.

No one person could possibly stay on top of everything. But the myth of the complete leader (and the attendant fear of appearing incompetent) makes many executives try to do just that, exhausting themselves and damaging their organizations in the process.

Summing-up: It’s time to put the myth of the complete leader to rest, not only for the sake of frustrated leaders but also for the health of organizations. Even the most talented leaders require the input and leadership of others, constructively solicited and creatively applied. It’s time to celebrate the incomplete—that is, the human—leader.

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