Fatal Flaws! by Ian Kinnery

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Fatal Flaws! by Ian Kinnery

Much has been written about leaders and leadership. About whether leaders are born or are made. You could paper the walls with scholarly and popular articles about the traits, competencies and behaviours of great leaders. Some of this literature is well researched and well argued and much of it is helpful if you are at all interested in developing your own leadership skills. I have personally read lots of it and continue to do so but one of the things that I am noticing in my work developing leaders is how important it is to be aware of our flaws, and in particular our “fatal flaws”. It often seems that however strong our strengths are, however talented and gifted we may be, it is seems that our ability to perform can be severely limited by our flaws. US Vice President and congressman Adlai E. Stevenson once said “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” Thinking you look funny on a horse may not be a flaw in some walks of life, but it could be if you were an aspiring cavalry officer. In fact if you were hoping to make being a cavalry officer your life’s work it could indeed prove to be a fatal flaw. When seeking to develop ourselves we often end up focussing on those areas that we are already strong in. I have noticed how people will tend to easily gravitate to areas of their natural proficiency, in the same way that when we go to the gym we will often focus on the exercises we are good at and avoid the ones we are less proficient at. There is nothing wrong with that as a strategy. Becoming outstanding rather than just good in a specific area can be a winning formula. Other people will focus on working on their weaker areas and again there is merit in that as a strategy. Perhaps one of the most effective things we can do is to identify and eradicate our “fatal flaw”. The one thing that most holds us back, the one thing that is going to trip us up; the thing that reduces the effectiveness of everything else that we do. For example a leader who has a whole host of talents, who can focus on results, who is personally very capable and can handle complex situations may face a stellar career. However if he has, for example, an inability to build rapport, resulting in an inability to engage his team and get them onside and working with him may find that his future is severely impeded by that one shortcoming. He may find it acts like a speed limiter reducing his progress, despite his undoubted skills and talent. The challenge is that we are all very poor at seeing ourselves as others see us. So recognising those flaws, fatal or not, is difficult. The irony is the higher we are in the organisation the less likely that anyone inside the organisation will tell us. Often the role of the external coach is to hold up the mirror, to help us see what others can, but that we often can’t. That is why I like the description of a coach as a compassionate yet unreasonable friend. Who is yours? 

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