A young, recently married couple was driving in their car one day trying to get to a location unfamiliar to them both. As the husband drove, he felt certain that he could find the way to the location with relative ease given his finely-tuned sense of direction. However, and as it often goes, his wife had a different opinion – she felt the opposite direction was the most probable way to reach their desired destination. Along the journey, they reached a literal fork in the road and the husband decided that as the self-appointed leader (at least in the car), his way was the right way – and so they went.
The road went on and on for quite some time and finally, with a perplexed look on his face, the husband muttered: “I think that we should be there by now.” His now steaming but prudent wife folded her lips, bit down on them and uttered not a word. Eventually, they both came to the realization that they were lost. They retraced their path, got back to the fork in the road, chose the other direction and within minutes, they finally reached where they needed to be. What is the moral of this story – to always listen to the women in your life? I am sure that female readers will appreciate such a stance but no – it is a simple reminder that we all make mistakes.
I am sure that you have encountered at least one person in your life so far who held the view that he or she was always right. People like this tend to ‘ride our nerves’ and it reaches another level when this person occupies an official leadership role. From your experience, you would agree that individuals who feel they are always right tend not to seek, desire or appreciate the opinions of others around them. They also tend to rigidly fixate on their views with little to no chance of being convinced of any alternative perspective. Thus, making relating with them quite difficult.
This leads us to the following question: Can a leader be wrong or make mistakes? On first glance, questions of this nature may seem quite illogical but I would like to alert you to the fact that there are some who hold the view that a leader should somehow be immune from making mistakes. In fact, there is a school of thought which suggests that if a leader makes a mistake, that the individual is not really a leader after all. Clearly, nothing can be further from the truth. We may not like the idea of it, but leaders can and do make mistakes.
I go further to submit to you that the leader who makes a mistake is not what we should fear or resist but rather, it is the leader who does not learn from and grow as a result of the mistake made. This is the key. True leaders are not afraid of making mistakes and they are not convinced that only their view is the right one. They acknowledge their shortcomings and rely on others where necessary to become a stronger individual and contributor to the society on a whole. Leaders see their mistakes as opportunities for self-development and in each one there is a valuable lesson to be learnt.
John C. Maxwell, one of the foremost known leadership authors and thought leaders, encourages all of us to embrace the lessons that can be learnt through the mistakes that we will make. He says: “The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get.” So, it should be clear to us now that leadership is not found in the absence of mistakes and failure, but it is in fact being able to turn those eventualities into building blocks that can allow us to become more effective and genuine leaders.
Now, let me remind you of something. When I speak about leaders, I am not narrowly defining this in terms of those who hold special titles nor am I referring to the business or political contexts only. We are all leaders in some way, shape or form and it is our responsibility and right to seek to understand our role as leaders in the home, at our schools, within our communities or even in those random everyday situations where we have a part to play in making the world a better place.
As individuals seeking to contribute positively to the world around us, we must appreciate the fact that we will make mistakes from time to time. We must also recognize that those around us must also be allowed to make mistakes. Where the rubber hits the road is in our and their willingness and ability to learn from such and to become better thereby. As Maxwell said: “The essence of man is imperfection. Know that you’re going to make mistakes. The fellow who never makes a mistake takes his orders from one who does. Wake up and realize this: Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success.”