Flaws Don’t Make Leaders Look Bad—Hiding Them Does
In the sports world, athletes wear their flaws and deficiencies on their sleeves. If a basketball player struggles with free throws or a football player fumbles too frequently, they can’t hide it, and most of the time, they don’t try. Instead, they get up every day and strive to improve, and they make their efforts visible.
As leaders, we worry a lot about how things look, but everyone has flaws and we all make mistakes. The truth is that people don’t notice half the shortcomings you probably stress over, and when they do notice, you’ll earn more trust and respect from employees by being transparent instead of taking the sweep-your-flaws-under-the-rug approach to leadership.
Deception Doesn’t Get You Far
We’ve all seen high-profile CEOs in the news who’ve been exposed for their shortcomings, and we all know how it looks. Why then do so many leaders turn away from transparency time and again?
The stumbling block many leaders hit is that they simply haven’t spent enough time examining their strengths and weaknesses to be able to articulate them in a cohesive way. When they don’t know how to share their flaws, they hide them, which leads to questions regarding their capabilities. Before they know it, they’ve created an image that’s impossible to live up to, but they don’t know how to deviate from this path.
Leading with great importance placed on public perception only makes mistakes more damaging when they inevitably occur because impossibly high expectations have been set. Furthermore, mistakes can happen more frequently if you prioritize the maintenance of the charade as opposed to focusing on the task at hand.
For leaders who haven’t reflected on their flaws, this route feels like the ideal shortcut — “I’ll give the perception of perfection, and that will be good enough” — when without the substance behind it, it’s more likely a trap.
Flaws Guide Your Self-Improvement
People get so caught up with the illusion of perfection that they miss out on the incredible benefits of leading with authenticity. Perhaps the most valuable advantage for you as an individual is this: knowing and owning your shortcomings gives you the ability to improve upon them.
In the corporate world, Bob Iger sets a great example of how a leader can wear their heart on their sleeve in terms of who they are. He’s not afraid to address his flaws. In a recent interview with CNBC, Iger acknowledged that in his first term as Disney’s CEO, he had been “dismissive of other people’s ideas” and had become “overconfident in [his] own instincts.” As he returns to Disney to resume the role of CEO for a second time, he’s focused on addressing those limitations and not repeating the past.
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High-performing athletes and effective leaders share many traits, and it’s no coincidence that Iger is an athlete as well — he famously interviewed for Disney’s CEO position after completing a triathlon that same morning. When you bring the same transparency to the boardroom as you show in your sport, you can use it to power real self-improvement.
Transparency Strengthens Team Rapport
Not only does acknowledging their flaws help leaders improve themselves, but it also paves the way for developing a good rapport with their teams.
When company leaders stand in front of their teams and only talk about their strengths, employees can often sense the discord. No employee believes their leader is batting one thousand all the time, and if a leader makes that claim, they’ll be met with skepticism, not trust. The self-disclosure of weaknesses, on the other hand, can foster a strong perception of humility.
At my company, Skye Bioscience, an honest, reciprocal rapport with my team is my priority. Being unafraid to speak frankly to one another fosters an environment that helps us get to a better place. Being aware of and open about my flaws only makes the company more efficient. For example, I know I could be a stronger public speaker, so I make sure to spend enough time preparing before speaking to account for it. Because the team is aware of this, they understand that I need a certain amount of preparation time before a presentation. When you share your perceived faults, people know what to expect from you and can even help you achieve your goals faster.
Saying to your employees, “We didn’t do so well in this area, and I think it’s because I didn’t do a great job on this,” doesn’t make you look bad — it makes you look human. That’s a good thing because showing vulnerability makes you relatable, earns trust and sets a positive example of accountability for your teams.
The higher the status of the person showing vulnerability, the stronger the outcomes for the organization.
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Own Your Flaws
Nobody wants to feel embarrassed in front of their employees, but in the same way, professional athletes can’t hide their flaws, and neither can leaders. Sooner or later, the truth becomes clear, and the result only makes leaders look worse.
If you’ve ever lost sleep over a fear of “looking bad,” take a page from the sports world: reflect on your flaws and create a plan to improve them. Perfection is elusive, so instead of setting impossibly high expectations for yourself, get comfortable in your own skin and put your weaknesses out in the open. What you fear makes you look bad might actually be the very thing that wins your employees’ respect.