» Warts and All

Although I do focus on “the hardlines,” I will often talk about other aspects of leadership and life as well.   Here is an example.

Leaders, fess up! What are your flaws?

What vulnerabilities do you face, day by day and hour by hour, as you make decisions and take actions to enhance your enterprise? Does your picture of yourself reflect some semblance of objectivity? Have others whose opinions you value pointed out some of your less-than-solid attributes? Or have you asked?

David Brooks, a William F. Buckley protégé and noted conservative pundit, wrote a piece entitled The Art of Growing Up. This June 6th New York Times article traces the concept of maturity over the course of American history. He notes that Abraham Lincoln was well aware of his depression, which included despondent behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and withdrawals into catatonic isolated states. Brooks points out that Lincoln found a way to control his depression and achieve maturity.

Viewing depression as a weakness and a developmental challenge (frankly, it is neither) reinforces the stigma and ignorance that surrounds it. However, what I found of value is Brooks’ observation that in Lincoln’s day, to achieve maturity was to succeed in the conquest of self. According to conventional thought in mid-19th century America, human beings were born in sin, infected with dark passions, and subject to satanic temptations. Adulthood was achieved by mastering these impulses. Brooks further states that in the last century, self-mastery has been replaced by self-discovery, and maturity now means serving others.

I find this claim unsubstantiated, and I don’t agree with it. Granted, people who serve others may be mature. But they may be at any developmental stage, and may serve others for all sorts of reasons (college admissions officers? Hello hello!).

However, I do agree with Brooks in one respect. Great leaders are those who have gazed into their own internal abyss, come face to face with their own weaknesses, and eventually found a way to combat and triumph over them.

More than self-awareness, Brooks is probably talking about resilience – the ability to learn from setbacks and trauma, forge ahead with possibilities,  and focus on the future. These qualities are essential for any leader.

So you leaders out there, look inside yourself, admit your weaknesses, and identify the areas you’d like to change. Be courageous — ask your loved ones and top team colleagues to help. And if you’re interested in my weaknesses, let me know. We can swap warts!