Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.
Modern aircraft are often made of a composite material. Fiberglass is a thick, flexible fabric…hardly something that can support thousands of pounds and withstand the extreme forces of flight. However, combine it with a sticky, syrup-like compound called resin, let it cure and the resulting combination becomes one of the strongest materials for its weight used in aviation. Two very different components combine to create a new compound of vastly superior characteristics.
As much as you would like to believe, you do not possess every quality required to be the perfect leader. Despite feeling like you are in total control, you need help. Every human being has biases, strengths and weaknesses and you are no different. Having a deputy or second in command with strengths that offset your weaknesses is an important part of good leadership.
Plato was a wise man. Before you experience success, he said you must “Know Thyself”. Before you can find a deputy with the necessary strengths to cover your weaknesses, you must know what those weaknesses are. As a leader, how can you discover your weaknesses? If you have an honest spouse, you may already be very aware of those. Alternately, growing up in your organization, your weaknesses should reveal themselves as you encounter different situations. Be aware of feelings of unease, discomfort or anxiety as they may be a clue as to areas in which you need assistance.
If honest self-reflection does not illuminate areas in which you are challenged, do not mistake that for perfection. Trust me, you have weaknesses. Fortunately, there are multiple organizations that make a living out of helping people identify their strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Myers-Briggs personality test is an excellent tool to determine where you would excel and where you might need assistance. As the great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual”.
“Good leaders are able to overcome their own ego for the good of the organization.”
Once you know where your leadership may be weak, work to strengthen those weaknesses yourself much like exercise strengthens a weak muscle. At the same time, seek out a deputy that possesses strengths in those areas in which you are weak. It would be much easier, and probably more comfortable, to hire someone exactly like you. Unfortunately, leadership is not about being best friends…it is about providing vision and managing risk.
Giving a deputy the authority to shine where you are weak can be intimidating to unsecure leaders. Good leaders are able to overcome their own ego for the good of the organization. One of our country’s great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, said it well, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it”.
What if you do not have the ability to choose your deputy? In the military, I usually did not have the luxury of choosing my second in command. Thus, I could not ensure together we had all the bases covered. If this is your situation, you will have to communicate openly with your deputy about your weaknesses. This can be very uncomfortable for the person in charge, but the results can be very beneficial. Tell your deputy on what you expect him or her to focus while you focus on your strengths. At the very least, your deputy will know where to direct attention to prevent missteps.
As a leader, I encourage you to accept the fact you have weaknesses and take action to reduce their impacts. A strong team begins at the top of an organization. Provide an example for your entire team to follow by overcoming your own ego and put the good of the organization first.