The Best Compliment You Can Get as a Leader

He knows me. She gets me. He cares. She’s real.

These comments represent the best compliment leaders, or anyone, can get. They demonstrate why people choose to trust you. With trust, they are more motivated to do well on team goals in addition to their own aspirations.

The best way to earn these compliments is to demonstrate your “humanness” by admitting to your mistakes and sharing stories about when you learned life’s hard lessons. No one expects you to be perfect. In fact, people will feel you are more approachable when you admit to missteps and even laugh when you trip up.

People feel you understand them and you are a real person when you show all sides of yourself, including what is far from perfect.

In addition to connecting with others more readily, Justin Brady writes about why he loves to call himself a failure and the many good things proclaiming your mistakes can provide. Here are three:

  • To learn, adjust and move forward.
  • To tolerate your future failures with humility and style.
  • To accept other people’s mistakes, which helps them feel safe enough to explore ideas and new practices with you.

This seems like common sense, but it is not common practice. I still get leaders in my classes who think people count on them to have all the answers. If they can’t fix a problem quickly, they are bad leaders. Although their assertions are honorable, they are wasting good energy chasing the two most unachievable goals – knowing everything and doing everything right.

It Takes Courage to Build Confidence

Bill Treasurer shows in his new humorous and insightful book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass: How to Learn from Rough Landings, Blunders, and Missteps that it takes a lot of courage to admit mistakes and accept honest feedback, but this is how you become more grounded, more aware, more confident, and more caring. Bill says,

  • If you study the biographies of great leaders you admire, they nearly always hinge on a humiliating and ego-bruising failure that ultimately made the leader stronger, more conscious, and more attuned to the needs of others.
  • The truth is, for most leaders, the path of leadership isn’t from good to great, it’s from decidedly bad to pretty good. Your leadership blunders can be the source of your most profound and enduring lessons. Humility is crucial to effective leadership.
  • The most thoughtful and effective leaders have been through a personal transformation. The leader who you are before the butt-kick and the leader who you become afterwards are two different leaders.  
The Most Admirable Courage Feels Awful

To courageously be human—which allows you to be honest, accepting, present, compassionate, and inspiring—you need to recognize and accept the feelings you love to avoid. Discomfort, doubt, disheartened, boredom, awkwardness, confusion, embarrassment, frustration, humiliation, and feeling stupid—your avoidance of these feelings stops you from acting courageously.

In my last post, I explained how emotions are biological reactions to stimuli. They are no bad emotions, only bad reactions to what you feel. If you acknowledge instead of stuff an emotion, you might discover important information needed to take a positive step forward. You are also likely to better know what to do the next time you face a similar situation.

If you can say to yourself, “Yes, this is how I feel” and then muster the courage to tell others, “This is what I’m feeling which tells me I what I need to do next” they will not only trust you, they will know it’s okay to have their own experience without worrying about being negatively judged.

What leaders avoid – uncomfortable emotions – are the doors to wisdom and connection with others.

Where to Start

Set a leadership goal to be courageously honest and real. In these devisive times, people need to be brought together by leaders who are honest, real, humble, and accepting.  Here are three actions to focus on as you build your habit of humility:

  1. Don’t try to know everything. You will look stupid and feel badly when you are wrong. Admit to what you don’t know and seek out those who can fill in the gaps.
  2. Ask, “How can I help you?” before stepping in. This will keep you from taking away power from others and making up what you don’t know.
  3. Accept the emotions you feel when you make a mistake. Share what you did and how it made you feel without rationalizing your behavior or minimizing your reaction.Be an approachable human so we can all grow and succeed together.

The best compliments come not from what you do easily, but from what you achieved after you failed. Your humility, wisdom, and good humor light the way for others to keep going, too.

You can find more tips on holding productive uncomfortable conversations in The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.

If you would like to talk about leadership skills training and coaching focused on improving emotional connection, please reach out to me at:

Marcia Reynolds





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