I have the same concerns as many about the impending changes to the NHS. I am not sure whether the proposals will, if agreed, deliver all the highlighted benefits. I hope some will be achieved but I mostly hope that none cause detriment to patient care (it’s all too easy to say they will) and whilst I’m sure all of us have a view about the government’s proposals (well who doesn’t?) for a minute or two, I would like us to focus a little closer to home.
It’s easy to criticise the boss. We have all, at some time or other done it. Some in leadership positions deserve our criticism but some do not. It is natural for us to want to respect those that lead us; we want to observe courage and capability, watch it in action and learn, we look to be inspired and enthused, we look for vision and a model for behaviour, but since when did our leaders have to be perfect?
No one has a set of qualities that are balanced and in perfect alignment. Whilst many of us accept that no one is perfect we still have a tendency to contradict this in practice and assume our leaders should be faultless in all they do.
Book shops are creaking under the weight of literature on the topic, where leaders are usually portrayed as brilliant and having enviable qualities. We have created this notion that people in prominent positions are flawless, that they don’t and must never make mistakes and if they do, well quite simply their time is up, they were never the best person for the job anyway and all of a sudden they go from being the bee’s knees to only being fit for the scrapheap.
Here is the secret. There is no such thing as the perfect leader. In the same way that we think Father Christmas is real for a while, there is a point when we realise, and have to accept, that he’s actually not (apologies if anyone still believes, give me a ring, I’ll explain). We are suffering the myth of the perfect leader and when we find out that they are not perfect we can become disillusioned and often bitter in our disappointment.
Good leaders have weaknesses, they know them and they admit them, they make mistakes (sometimes fairly stupid ones), which they admit to, they don’t blame other people; they take responsibility and get on. They show humility. They know their own inadequacies and they don’t pretend to be a super hero.
One of the great challenges both now and going forwards, particularly in light of the significant changes ahead is to understand that a. leaders will definitely make mistakes and b. to some degree that’s ok, it doesn’t automatically mean they are not capable or competent (I don’t mean life threatening mistakes). These are unchartered waters. Of course everything possible needs to be done (by all) to mitigate the risks of these mistakes.
We seem to have evolved into a system where mistakes must never happen and if they do the consequences must be tough. My concern is that this might mean more mistakes will happen through fear and I also suspect more bullying will occur. There are an awful lot of people in leadership positions who seem unable to take personal responsibility and who have to find someone to blame when things do not go according to plan.
Good leaders know that they can’t do it on their own. They are human, they have limitations and they have insecurities. They need the support, skill and efforts of people around them and smart ones recruit team members who are strong in the areas that they are not. Very smart ones recruit people who will positively challenge them even if it is uncomfortable at times.
Being a leader isn’t something that you are recruited into, you grow into it and with it if you are going to maintain being effective. If you are in it for the long term you must be teachable, even senior leaders still need to learn. Many leaders were good but have had their time.
We have no right to expect perfection in our leadership, we ourselves are not perfect. We do however have the right to expect that our leaders (and indeed ourselves) will learn from mistakes and not repeat them and remember that we have to learn along the way and never assume there is nothing more to learn. Perfection doesn’t qualify you, far from it. Understanding your inadequacies, admitting your blunders, having and showing humility and admitting your weaknesses makes good leadership possible.
As W. Somerset Maugham said ‘there are three rules for creating great leaders. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are’.
Perhaps next time we want to complain or criticise another; be it someone who has been willing to speak out on their view of things where we maybe don’t hold a shared view, our boss, our bosses’ boss etc then perhaps we should first have a quick look in the mirror. We can all play at being our boss or our bosses’ boss, being it is a completely different game.