Leadership and Weakness

I was listening to the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast this morning. In the podcast Bob Sutton interviews Nancy Koehn, the author of Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership. The podcast is about how leaders navigate friction, and even use friction to their advantage as they are organizing people towards a goal or outcome. It is really interesting because most often we feel that we need to avoid friction in order to feel like we are making a difference. We think that smooth sailing indicates that you are going in the right direction. Most often smooth sailing just means that we are taking the easy way. It is the really good solutions that are probably going to be hard. Often it isn’t that people don’t figure out the solution because they haven’t had the same idea as you. Probably they didn’t get to the solution because they quit, or flamed out (burned out, were killed, gave up) along the way.

There were two interesting quotes that came out of the podcast.

The first is from David Foster Wallace from an article that he wrote for Rolling Stone. In this article, he says “a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”

I want to have leaders like this. And I want to be a leader like this. I want someone to help me get past all of my faults, and to get moving when I just am not willing or ready to. I want people to give me a poke when I am being silly, and to help me do “better, harder things than I could do on my own.” That is what I want to do, that is who I want to follow.

The second interesting quote from the podcast that struck me is about what leaders think and do when they are about to give up. Nancy Koehn talks about the moment that leaders might feel that they can’t make it any further. They might feel that through the fog and darkness, they might not take the next step. This is when Nancy emphasizes how important the next step is. “The next step, no matter how small, is sometimes the whole D*** game.” Don’t give up, just take the next small step, and see where it leads.

Leadership is hard, there is no guarantee of success. Each step matters, and no action should be taken lightly. If it is worth fighting for, it is worth leading others to fight for it and do better and harder things than they could get themselves to do on their own.