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Vulnerability and Leadership – Why it is OK for leaders to make mistakes

by Margaret Bell | August 13, 2018

Great leaders are imperious. Great leaders are infallible. Great leaders are something more than human. This is the narrative that hero-worship has pushed upon us in the past, and, of course, it is somewhat far from the truth.

A great leader is a great person, certainly, but they are still a person. And what do people do? People make mistakes.

It is likely that you are a leader in some capacity, perhaps in your workplace, within your family unit, or within your friendship group. If someone looks to you for emotional support and guidance, then you are a leader.

You are a leader because of your positive qualities, but how did these qualities develop? Think back to an experience which shaped these qualities and helped you to become a leader. This will undoubtedly be something important to you - maybe a negative experience which you are able to transform into a positive - and you will likely be proud of how you handled this event.

But let's think more critically about this. Did you make mistakes? Was your each and every response a perfect one? The answers to these questions are probably, 'yes, I did', and 'no, they were not'. To err, the essayist Alexander Pope said, is human - you are a leader, but you are still a human.

Recognising this fact is an important part of developing the social and emotional intelligence required to become a true leader; two elements which have become harder to develop and maintain in recent years.

The age of information has placed our social and emotional intelligence under constant siege. Consider the flickering images of terror attacks, natural disasters, and military atrocities which are beamed into our brains each and every day via online news channels - consider how quickly our failings are plastered across the internet on social media when we slip up. This cannot fail to have a negative impact on this aspect of our intelligence and our self-understanding.

It is this which we will be exploring over the next few weeks, as we seek to gain a better knowledge of what it means to be a leader - not in the sense of being exceptional or superhuman - but in the sense of what it really means to be a leader.

I hope that you can join us as we examine how cultivating and developing the habits and skills linked to emotional and social intelligence provides such a benefit to all of us,and to society as a whole.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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