“A perpetual problem of Presidents, CEOs, and other leaders is that just because you are a bloody genius in one area it means you are going to be a genius in everything else you do. First thing that gets leaders into trouble is that they go way outside their area of expertise but they’re so often used to succeeding that they don’t even know how to take feedback on this stuff” – Ken Wilber This statement taken from a video on the Integral Operating System by Ken Wilber is certainly provocative and would definitely get “his vote cancelled” with most of our clients. However, if we step back and consider it with curiosity, it does raise interesting points regarding the unique contributions each of us brings to leadership. Do you know what your unique, valued contributions are? Do you know your blind spots? Are you willing to admit them to yourself, (or anyone else?) Do you feel compelled to pretend you are great at everything? Who do you let give you real and direct feedback?
Perhaps the targets of Wilber’s allegations walk the halls of Wall Street and global corporations? Our clients are on Main Street, (who create most of the new jobs, by the way), and often seem to be more impacted by their self doubts than runaway arrogance or narcissism. Even the few who seem arrogant on the surface are masking an underlying fear that they are somehow stupid and/or incompetent.
Attempts to avoid or disguise areas where you feel weak by trying to appear strong over the top of the opposite deep concern will actually cause mistrust. Amazingly, people pretty much always know such things at some level and know they must be wary of you when you are not forthcoming and authentic. “Fake it ‘til you make it” only works in pushing yourself to develop new levels of performance skills. It’s not so useful when it’s your entire presence or how you conduct your relationships.
If you really intend to be an effective leader, find out about your blind spots and “shadows.” Find trusted advisors who will give you honest feedback. There are a number of 360 assessments available that are effective at this work. Very few of our clients have the courage to take one – do you? There are also a number of excellent leadership and personality profiles on the market that can give you an unbiased view of how you fit with your own assessment of the requirements of your job.
Bill Wagner, Co-Founder of Accord Management Systems, administered two such assessments for members of one of my Vistage executive groups and worked with the members to conduct a Gap Analysis. This allowed them to develop strategies to team with others to fill in areas of importance where they see themselves as deficient rather than ignoring the gap or faking their competence.
You have a choice. You can keep emphasizing your greatest strengths and ignoring the other important areas of your leadership, or worse, pretending that you are brilliant in those areas too. Bottom line – pretense makes you a delusional leader. Alternatively, you can strive to be authentic and transparent. This might make you vulnerable, always in a state of learning, and having to team with others to accomplish your goals. The rewards are increased productivity, reduced stress, and being able to lead an integrated life.