Ever play Yahtzee? There is something about that game that I really like. It is a game where you roll five dice and try and get combinations of pairs or three of a kind or four of a kind etc. The first one to get all of the prescribed combinations wins. Actually I really like all dice game because there is a sense of fairness in them. Label some of your body parts as numbers one through six. The arms can be one and two, legs are three and four, and lets say your eyes are five and your ears are six. Each morning as you get to work, roll your one dice and work the rest of the day without using the part of the body that you rolled. If by chance you happen to be missing one of these parts already, number a different part of your body for illustration purposes. If you are not used to being without your eyes or ears or any of your limbs, this would be a difficult day for you. In order to overcome, you would have to make several adjustments and most likely need the help of others to be as productive as you normally are. Don ‘t get used to it though because tomorrow you roll again and will have to make different adjustments. People around you will notice right away that something is different. Even to grab a cup of coffee they will notice that you are only using your right hand or that you are hopping to the coffee break. This is crazy right, I mean who would actually think of this.
Ok, while it may be absurd, you can easily visualize this. Now, keep your dice, but label six key skills of leadership. Lets call written and verbal communication one and two, vision is three, organized is four, flexible is five, and lets say having integrity is six. Go ahead and roll your dice, see which characteristic you are going to live without today. You may not have come up with the same characteristics that I just did, but what would happen is that on at least one day of the week, things would be totally normal. Your team wouldn’t notice a difference. They would see you at the coffee pot and say, “Yep, there’s Bill telling stories about other staff members again.” Or maybe, “Oh man, another team meeting with Bill, what a waste of time.” Parts of the human body work together to allow you to function. If one part is missing, other parts have to compensate. The same is true for leadership. All characteristics of a leader need to work together in order for a leader to be effective.
I am a poor written communicator. I feel much more productive and effective with verbal communication. I love presenting and engaging with an audience and expressing ideas through storytelling and carefully crafted presentations. The truth is however that I have to communicate through writing far more often than I have to speak to audiences. Since I feel like I need help in that area, I write as often as possible. This in part is why I write these blog posts. It’s not like I rolled the dice one day and written communication came up and since no one looked at me cross-eyed I figured I had a problem there. Or that no one told me I needed help and didn’t give me feedback on my written communication. The truth is that people would tell me, I just didn’t listen. Missing a key leadership skill is obvious to those around us but sometimes not so obvious to us. I don’t know how else to find out what is lacking in me as a leader than to be vulnerable and ask. Ask your staff, ask peers, and ask your immediate supervisor. Does that seem like a weak thing to do? I don’t know, it is weak to go to the doctor if you are sick? No, you want to know what’s wrong so you can remedy it. The difference is that when you feel sick, you know something is wrong, with leadership characteristics, sometimes you can go years with blinders on not even knowing what issues are.
That fear of what other people may construe as weakness just might keep you from developing all the skills you need to increase your influence as a leader. If you are weak in an area and don’t seek to improve or receive feedback a different problem might come up: arrogance, pride, or a sense of entitlement will creep in to help compensate. It is as natural as your ears becoming more keen if you lose your eyesight. Or your left leg becoming stronger if you lose your right leg. In one way, shape, or form, you will compensate for weaknesses, sometimes in a healthy way, and sometimes in a dysfunctional way. If you can receive feedback and work to make improvements, you can guard yourself against forms of leadership compensation that will actually drive people away from you. Vulnerability is a weakness? I don’t think so, it may be the characteristic that will allow you to overcome whatever the dice throw at you today.