The myth of the superhero leader, a person of unlimited ability, charisma, and strength persists. Indeed, throughout all of history we have forced the illusion of the larger than life figure who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.
Without doubt extraordinary leaders are people of exceptional competence but they do not rely on the image of flawless perfection nor do they allow their subordinates and associates to perpetuate that myth.
Some people seem to think that they must appear to be capable of every demand made upon them. It is an unfortunate and unsustainable reliance on image. They are typically emotionally insecure individuals who are afraid that their power and authority would somehow disappear if others were to know that they can’t really do everything.
Others are narcissists who are in love with their own image and perceive themselves inaccurately, emperors without clothes, as it were. Their massive self-esteem is rooted in the illusion that they are more competent than they are.
No one as complete as they would like to be. Many are not as complete as they think they are.
I’ve been writing for several months about the qualities of the superlative leader but I cannot sum up the series without qualifying the idea some may get that superlative leaders possess all 18 qualities or that to be truly exceptional one must be flawless.
But great men and women often possess great flaws.
Their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses because their competence as leaders simply overwhelms. And that brings me to the point today. There is a difference between being incomplete and being incompetent.
Incomplete leaders are humble enough to recognize…and accept…their weaknesses. Here’s the key – because they can see and accept their flaws and weaknesses, they search for others who possess the skills, competencies, and capabilities they do not. Then they employ them to build a leadership and executive team that is complete.
Incompetent leaders do not. Their flaws, because they remain unacknowledged and unattended, eventually overcome them and overwhelm their ability to lead. Why? Because of the wizard syndrome.
What, you ask, is the wizard syndrome?
Most of my readers will be familiar with the 1939 blockbuster movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy and her dog Toto find themselves ion Munchkin land desperately wanting to get back to Kansas. In the company of a Tin Man (who lacked a heart), a Lion (who lacked courage), and a Scarecrow (who lacked a brain – intelligence), they follow the yellow brick road to the city of Oz wherein dwells the Wizard, a being of incomprehensible power and knowledge. They overcome many obstacles to get to the Wizard because they believe that he can do what no one else can.
Once there, they find the Wizard unapproachable and unwilling to help. In his terrifying presence they cower and lose hope until Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard is no wizard at all. He is a mere man, a human who has built the image of supreme ability and unapproachable strength.
When you encounter a person who doesn’t let anyone know who they really are, who insists on projecting an image, who refuses to acknowledge that they are anything other than the magnificence they appear to be, they are using the wizard syndrome to build and maintain their power.
The problem comes when failures begin to pile up. One can forgive and compensate for the flaws of a humble person. We are less inclined to do so for the failures of those who insist on perpetuating the illusion of flawlessness.
Incomplete leaders know and accept the limitations of their reach so they find others who will enable them to reach farther. Incompetent leaders become angry and belligerent at the suggestion that their reach is somehow someway inadequate.
Incomplete leaders know and accept that they cannot know everything or understand all there is to understand so they gather around them voices that finish the story and complete the picture…and they listen to them. Incompetent leaders simply refuse to acknowledge that anyone else could possibly tell them anything they don’t know already.
Incomplete leaders have patience with others because they understand human nature and human frailties. Incompetent leaders consider themselves to be super-human and expect everyone else to be the same. They tolerate no failings in others which does two things. It promotes deceit and hiding as others cover up their actions lest Mr. Wizard find out. Second, it drives away capable people who simply will not tolerate the double-standard. The result is to attract second-rate people, lackeys and sycophants who tell Mr. Wizard what he wants to hear and promote the illusion Wizard lives under and wants.
So, we strive for excellence and live with failure. We grow into greater measures of ability and learn from our mistakes. We appreciate our innate and cultivated capacities and encourage those of others. We may be incomplete but then, none of us are finished with living yet.
As young leaders we admire and gravitate to the wizards we think will take us where we long to go. It’s only after the illusion dissolves in the cold light of reality do we realize that the heart, courage, and intelligence we long to possess is found in those who travel with us. We ultimately realize that exceptionalism is not so much a destiny as it is the journey.