In praise of the incomplete leader
16 November 2013
It’s a compelling illusion, but also an unhelpful one. Holding our leaders to unrealistic standards of performance is ultimately counterproductive, resulting in stress and frustration on both sides when things go wrong. This article, published in 2007 by a group of experts from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, argues that no single person can excel at every aspect of leadership. Instead, it hails the ‘incomplete leader’: someone who is aware of their own limitations, and not afraid of them. Successful leadership requires individuals to make an honest assessment of their own abilities, allowing them to make the most of their strengths and find ways of making up for their weaknesses. Wherever his or her talents lie – in understanding and analysing situations (a skill the article’s authors call sense-making), in building relationships, in envisioning new futures or inventing new ways of bringing them about – a leader can only be effective if they have a genuine sense of their own capabilities. We perform best when we are truest to ourselves – and that means acknowledging our vulnerabilities as well as celebrating our strengths.