This post is my friend and mentor Daniel Tocchini‘s thoughts on what weighs down a leader originally posted on his Facebook page, October 2013.
Be willing to be wrong and be freed to be your best.
““What is the gravity of leadership?” was the question from a client who had just hired me. He was serious. I had to stop for a moment and think. Somehow I realized that my answer would influence our relationship from that time forward. I answered, “being wrong.” “Being wrong? Please explain your answer.” He immediately retorted.
“Alright, but this is the nutshell version. If you look back on history you will see that great leaders have been wrong and openly so. For instance, Harry Warner was convinced that talking movies would fail he said and I quote, ‘Who wants to hear actors talk?’ And Thomas Watson of IBM publicly announced, ‘I think there is a world market for about five computers.’ Thomas Edison wrote in the local newspaper, ‘The phonograph… is not of any commercial value.’ Isaac Newton was absolutely wrong about Alchemy the branch of science he spent most of his life working on. Steve Jobs was wrong about Apple III, the NeXT Computer and the Newton, off the charts wrong. Yet all of these leaders are considered to be great.
If you watch the many failures we are seeing in leadership today the tendency of most people is to defend what they did that didn’t work. They use all their resources to avoid being wrong even if it is in their own eyes. I say the power in leadership has to do with the willingness to be wrong – realizing that being wrong isn’t fatal. In fact, I believe it is necessary. If you can’t be wrong, then you can’t lead.
The path to greatness is realizing that you are mediocre or poor in your performance along the way. I believe the willingness to fail on your way to a greater goal is the unheralded story of great leadership. However our natural tendency as human beings is to look for the “failure free” route to persuading and influencing people toward a certain outcome. We like to think there is a risk free way of catalyzing a change; it is often referred to as the “right way” and is illuminated by the self-righteous bystander in hindsight. People want to believe there is such a thing as the “right way” to greatness before they begin. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that when you start out, you are on the “right path” and that success is just a matter of following the dots until the picture comes into focus?
The truth is failure is the gravity of leadership. It isn’t easy to lead a corporation, a small group at your church, an athletic team or a mission. The truth is that these things often appear like we are risking everything but we aren’t because very few of us are likely to get burned at the stake or crucified. I believe the secret to great leadership is do what you believe in. Keep painting a picture of the future and go there. Expect failure along the way and you will develop perseverance and others will follow.”
Well said, Dan!