In the most recent Republican primary debate, the presidential candidates were asked to name their greatest weakness. For the most part, everybody ducked.
Kasich and Christie invented their own alternate questions, and answered them. Huckabee, Rubio, and Paul used the opportunity to compliment themselves. Bush, Trump, Carson, and Fiorina answered by painting themselves as genuine people rather than political hacks. Cruz came through most honest, acknowledging that most of us don’t want to have a beer with him — which, at some level, indicates he’s not a team player (true, true).
Most everyone who has been through the job interview process, particularly on the hiring side, knows that an inability to admit weakness is a big red flag.
There’s something deeply wrong with people who are so conceited they can’t identify areas for self-improvement. They’re awful team members, bosses, and direct reports. Perfect people tend to refuse criticism and act like arrogant, boorish jerks. Their ability to grow is limited, because how much can you learn, much less change and improve the next time, if you’re already perfect?
Most of all, an inability to concede weakness is the hallmark of a craptastic leader. Leadership is not the person in the cape who saves everyone. Leadership is helping others do their best. Leadership is working through other people, and to do that well you need to listen to others, have empathy, and be open to changing your mind in the face of new information or additional perspective.
Otherwise you’re just telling people what to do.
Maybe that works for awhile, as in the case of Bully in Chief Donald Trump’s early dominance in the Republican presidential primary season, although his numbers are slipping; or notorious psychopath Al Dunlap of Sunbeam, who wrote a book titled Mean Business before the company was forced to file for bankruptcy in spite of (or perhaps because of) the merciless staff cuts he made as its ‘chainsaw’ CEO.
Leadership as dominance is never ultimately sustainable, because the little guy has tremendous power, especially through organizing and collective action.
And we should absolutely question why ‘the little guy’ has a positive, go get ’em connotation, and ‘the little lady’ has a very different, condescending one.
There’s been a good bit of attention paid to the pitiful percentage of women in the most respected forms of leadership — executive leadership, public service, religious leadership — and there should be more.
The leadership gap is not due to character defects inherent in women, or a lack of appropriate training, although programs that specifically aim to train and develop women and girls must continue until equality has been reached in the ratio of women and men in leadership.
That said, the ‘but we need to build the pipeline’ argument is a bit of a smokescreen: There is an excess of qualified, capable women who are willing and ready to lead today. Rather than ask women why this is happening, it’s time to ask the white men who continue to wield disproportionate power in virtually every corridor of repute. They’re not sharing, and they have some ‘splaining to do.
Commonly it’s suggested, even by those who identify as feminist advocates, that women are more collegial and more likely to listen because they are women — but this is a gender essentialist trap. However, this argument does underlie an important and real point.
Leadership is actually not dominance — a good leader uses empathy, humility, and listening in service of building and supporting strong people who don’t need a strong, blustering leader. Leadership is growing alongside the people you’re charged to support. Sounds like a good parent to me, actually.
Maybe the character traits and experiences that we’ve devalued as feminine and non-leaderly deserve a fresh look.