Living Leadership

Living Leadership

The perfectly imperfect leader

Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

Did you sign a contract to be perfect? I don't recall signing one, yet as leaders we are held to a higher standard, sometimes so high it's unachievable. Perfection rarely is.

We agree to do the best we can at the time and to keep coming back every day to try and do better.

The idea of being a perfect leader is completely flawed. Every misstep, every mis-phrase or, worse yet, every wrong decision is pointed out for all to witness and remind you of your deficiencies.

So goes the challenge of leadership … being able to find the balance of forgiving yourself while you wait for, and sometimes will never have, the forgiveness of others. It's the burden of leadership. It's hard.

One leadership lesson I need to research more (and am open to suggestions, please) is the idea of leadership forgiveness. We are quick to point out each other's flaws, but we are less quick to accept those flaws for who the leader is; instead, we expect perfection.

If you weigh weaknesses against strengths and continue to believe leaders' strengths outweigh their weaknesses, does this make you a weak leader? I believe the answer is no. In fact I believe it may make you a stronger, more accepting leader and person. People sometimes have to find their way on their own time, not yours.

Over the years, I've come to realize a backseat leader can create unnecessary noise. I was certainly in the backseat at some points of my career. While I thought I knew what direction we were going, one thing I didn't know was the view from the front seat is very different. The noise can become a distraction that takes you away from the road ahead.

Ask yourself, “Do I really see the view from all directions and perspectives?” If not, a transformational leader will learn and gain a better perspective. It's easy to yell from the back seat, “Hey, leader, you are going the wrong direction!” It's very different to have the steering wheel in your own hands.

In this field, transformational leadership is critical. I continue to come back to the lessons learned “In Pursuit of the Sunbeam” where we are reminded to be transparent. To fully embrace this, it exposes us warts and all, to imperfection and vulnerability. We learn also that true organizational transformation takes years, not minutes or meetings. We must strive for it every day in our organizations.

We also must again forgive ourselves if we fall behind. It may be time to refocus and recommit to the perfect struggle we all face. To create an organization whose culture flourishes and builds one another up, not tear one another down, in order to provide the best possible environment for those we serve.

It will never be perfect. People will make mistakes. We will misstep. Emotions will get the best of us. And, yes, we will make bad decisions.

This isn't a confession of my wrongs as a leader but rather a realization that to be imperfect is … perfect.

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality under her in 2014, Thorson is a coach's daughter at heart. She is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. Now a licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year. 

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