Leaders make mistakes. Now what?

Soon a good friend of mine, Joel Devonshire, is leaving Ann Arbor, and leaving his place as chair of ICPJ’s Latin America Task Force.

For a going away gift, I’m giving him Leonard Doohan’s Spiritual Leadership: The Quest for Integrity. And, because I am cheap want to conserve paper, I’m reading it before I give it to him (and I’m hoping he doesn’t read this blog so the secret doesn’t get out).

Doohan quotes Keith Grint to say:

it seems taht the errors of leaders are commonplace, but what distinguishes a successful from a failed leaders is whether the subordinates can and will save the organization from the mistakes of it’s leaders.

I’ve seen many organizations flounder under poor leadership. What breaks my heart is that too often others in the organization are unwilling to intervene. The board, the volunteers, the other staff are afraid to speak the truth to the Executive Director, or to hold the Director accountable to respond to these concerns.

(Oh, how I wish I could give examples here to clarify this point.)

This raises three leadership questions:

  1. How can organizations build the internal strength to confront leadership mistakes? One of my fears is that I will overstay my usefulness at ICPJ and that nobody will do anything about it. If I go off the deep end or get out of touch with our members and our mission, I want our Board and Program Committees to be strong enough to deal with that reality.
  2. How can leaders maintain the humility to accept that they make mistakes and to learn from them? I know I make mistakes. I also know that sometimes I bristle when they are pointed out to me.

Sorry, I can’t offer any simple answers here. Others have written at length about the value of good evaluation, strong boards, and personal development. All of these are hard work; not easy fixes. But given that we all make mistakes, this hard work is necessary

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