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Of Leadership, Scars and Human Connection

A leader lives under the microscope. I’m not saying it’s fair or just, but people watch everything the leader does.


They watch the body language and facial expressions (Terry Starbucker wrote a great post about this); they listen to the tone of voice; they observe the decisions the leader makes; they listen to the leader’s questions and how they’re asked. Therefore, the most powerful tool a leader has is himself or herself.

Old news, right? Lead by example. Walk your talk. Practice what you preach. We’ve said it thousands of ways in every culture throughout recorded history.

Sure, we all like to set an example that virtually sparkles with success and accomplishment. Who wouldn’t? But most of us miss the opportunity to use our mistakes, failures and vulnerability as examples, too. And that’s too bad, because that’s where the deep learning and connection happens.

Here’s a dirty little secret: you screw up everyday and everyone already knows it. How do I know? Because we all do, just by virtue of being human.

But when you show us, leader, that you can face your own screw-ups, when you can publicly acknowledge that you crashed and burned, when you can–metaphorically speaking–hoist your shirt in front of a hundred people to show us the scar that you earned when you drove off the road or fell off the mountain, we’ll be closer to you as human beings.

And we follow human beings; we don’t follow idealized icons of unattainable perfection.

Too many businesspeople want to appear as invincible. They confuse credibility with perfection and, therefore, would never dream of showing their scars and foibles to their employees. Asking them to do so would be like asking them to chew glass.

Assuming you’re not one of them, let me ask you this:

What have you done lately to show your all-too-human imperfections?

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  • Ian

    Steve, I really like your idea that too many people “confuse credibility with perfection”. I certainly feel that way sometimes. Its tough to be in a leadership position and make mistakes, because you want all the people below you to look to you as a role model and an example, as the “perfect” that they should strive towards. I guess showing some weakness and ability to make mistakes will make you more “human” to those below you.

  • Greg Hartle

    Excellent Post Steve! I wish more would be willing to share their challenges and vulnerabilities. Ironically, customers/clients/employees/associates often end up respecting you much more for doing so.

    I wrote this post recently on my personal blog to show my successes and failures.

    Thx again, great stuff!

  • davidburkus

    Good post. I know you posted it two days ago but it’s ironic, since I’m just now getting to it on Columbus Day: a leader with undoubtable flaws.

  • Ricky Lyons

    Steve, I would like to say that this has been something I do whenever necessary. That would not be true but I do know that when i have done what you suggest that those who respond positively, dig deep into their own strengths and openly show much more respect to the company, their responsibilities and work their own unique abilities much harder.Ricky Lyons, Scottsdale AZ