As we were completing our university orientation leader training a couple weeks ago, someone whispered beside me, “I wish they’d done a section on leaders being nervous too.” Even though feeling nervous was not something I was struggling with at that particular time, her words really stuck with me. I could immediately relate to the general feeling of inadequacy in a position when I was supposed to be counted on.
Did nervousness make her any less of a leader? Do character flaws make anyone less of a leader? I would argue not. We are all human, after all, and flaws are a part of that, especially when there are others depending on you. There’s an undeniable amount of pressure and responsibility that comes with leadership, which undoubtedly must lead to side effects. Every leader has weaknesses, all of which come in many different shapes and sizes. It’s important that we can come to recognize this, address it openly, and deal with it in a constructive and patient manner.
A conversation that I feel has always been greatly lacking is displays of weakness in leaders. As much as I would consider myself a strong and highly capable leader, I have always felt inclined to conceal every flaw in my character for fear of being judged as inadequate or unfit for my role. And no, I don’t mean the “I’m five minutes late to everything” type of flaw; I mean the “I’ve dealt with three mental illnesses by the age of 19” type of flaw. I’m terrified of undermining my abilities in any way and fearful that others will do the same.
Many think, as I did, that a leader is supposed to embody and radiate strength and confidence wholeheartedly. Traits like nervousness wouldn’t usually be associated with someone speaking in a megaphone to hundreds of peers. While everyone may have weaknesses, leaders at least aren’t supposed to show them.
When a particular event took its toll on me during the end of orientation week, I was touched by three highly capable and bright women who came up to me and offered consolation. They admitted that they’d cried that day too, and that they faced breakdowns every week, and took daily pills for depression. No one is as put together as they appear. Knowing that, I think, leads to a much better understanding of a person — something especially important in teamwork, and provides an additional level of support and respect that wouldn’t have been possible before.
I dislike the assumption that personal flaws or struggles will automatically mean my work performance suffers. Yes, I have restraints that may occasionally impede me in certain ways, however, I’d like to think that I’ve never once sacrificed any role for personal reasons because I love every position I take on and I will always hold it as a priority. I’m sure any other leader would agree with me.
If the first couple weeks of university have taught me anything, it is that a great leader is not someone who embodies perfection. It is someone people will look up to and follow not just in spite of their flaws, but also because of them. Just as how a strong relationship isn’t a couple who’s never fought, but rather a couple who can accept their disputes and resolve them maturely to ultimately put the relationship first. A leader should be admired for how they deal with their faults, how they overcome them, and how they can assure success by tailoring to their strengths and weaknesses. This communication needs to be made more open so that every leader can feel trusted by their team regardless of their personal faults.