Using Fallibility As a Leader in Today's Workplace

      When was the last time you admitted making a mistake or admitted you are not good at something? When was the last time you asked for or allowed someone to help you?

      I was with a team last week that is just starting to come together after working through some long- standing issues. Each person was sharing the strengths they bring to the team and their colleagues were nodding and concurring, adding how much they appreciate that person’s strengths and talents.

      When it came time to talk about what they would like to change in the way they work together there was silence. There seemed to be a sense that they did not want to mar the lively and fun conversation about their strengths with the things that were challenging them.  Finally, Jane* spoke up and addressed Mary* specifically. “I have to be honest, when I came in this morning and saw that you reorganized my workspace, I was pretty ticked off. I know I am not as neat and organized as you, but I really felt violated.”  Mary look genuinely shocked, “I was just trying to help. I had some extra time and thought how nice it would be if you came in this morning and you could just get right to work without having to clean up the space first.” “But I didn’t ask for your help,” quipped Jane.  “I know,” shot back Mary, “you never ask for help. And yet we can see you are behind which eventually affects more than you, it impacts us and our customers.”

      The discussion that ensued was both painful and freeing for the entire team. This conversation led to each person’s beliefs about what it means to ask for help. Some said they believe it demonstrates weakness, others said it makes them feel like they are not doing their job well enough, one person was worried that the person helping them would do the task better than them. At the end of the conversation Jane was pretty quiet.  When I asked what she was thinking about she blurted, “I do the same thing at home. I never ask anyone for help even when I feel like I’m drowning.”

      Asking for help has huge benefits for you and the other person. By asking for help you are…

      • Communicating to others that you value them and their skills.
      • Giving others the opportunity to step up and pitch in which in turn makes them feel good.
      • Making others feel needed, a most basic human desire.
      • Modeling that one person does not have to, and is not expected to, do it all.
      • Demonstrating to others that you are a regular, imperfect human just like them which in turn builds a stronger relationship.

      The next time you are tempted to fall victim to your belief that showing fallibility is a sign of weakness, stop and consider a different story. 

      How is trying to be infallible hurting your relationships at work and at home? What can you do to start changing this? 

      *names have been changed to protect confidentiality




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