A commitment to self-leadership is a commitment to facing our own limitations—and that can be a hard pill to swallow. Leaders are supposed to have all the answers, right? So, doesn’t it undermine our leadership if we admit we might have a problem—or even be the problem? The short answer: No. Good leaders can take responsibility for their weaknesses without being undermined or overwhelmed by them. With a treasure hunt you are given a treasure map, compass and clues to find your way along the route.
When I say your “weaknesses” won’t stop you, I’m referring to anything that limits your leadership or slows your progress as a team. Most of the time, these are simply the byproducts of being human. Maybe you aren’t good at administration, budgets, schedules, or planning. Maybe you don’t know how to lead an effective meeting. Maybe you hate answering emails. Maybe you tend to freeze up when facing tough decisions. Maybe you speak so boldly and bluntly that you hurt people. Maybe you can’t stand negotiation or conflict. Whatever your limitation is, it’s not insurmountable—unless you refuse to acknowledge it.
Why are we so hesitant to confront our own limitations? Often it boils down to insecurity. We’re afraid the people we lead will find out what we always suspected to be true: that we aren’t enough; that we don’t measure up; that we are a fraud and a failure. We convince ourselves it’s better to avoid the facts and live in fear than to face reality and risk our self-esteem and our image taking a public hit. So we blame others, blame the economy, blame the government, blame bad luck—and in the process become our own lid, our own ceiling. But we will never grow—personally or as leaders—beyond our capacity to be honest with ourselves and transparent with others when it comes to our limitations.
Once you recognize your limitations, you can overcome them or at least work around them. Sometimes this will mean learning and growing in order to strengthen a weakness. Take a class, read a book, ask questions, get feedback—do whatever you can to improve yourself. Other times, rather than fixing a weakness, you will need to staff your weakness. If you can’t keep up with your email inbox, consider giving someone on your administrative team that job. If you can’t negotiate well but you have to broker a deal, take someone along who handles conflict better than you. There is no shame in admitting you’ll never be great in a particular area and delegating the task to someone else. In my experience, my team already knows where I’m weak, and it bothers them a lot less than I would have thought. Far from being condemning or feeling disappointed in my leadership, they are eager to help by filling in my weaknesses with their strengths.
Your authority comes less from your ability and more from your authenticity. I’m not saying leadership abilities aren’t important—people tend to stop following inept leaders sooner rather than later. But I am saying your willingness to be honest, humble, and courageous in facing your weaknesses is far more important. You can staff or organize your way around a lack of skills, but first you have to acknowledge what you lack.