Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
Headshot of Darryl Stewart

You don’t have to be perfect to be a great leader

I have been researching, writing, and speaking about leadership and employee engagement for many years.

At the beginning of the journey, I was certain that as I read the books, took the courses, listened to the podcasts, and then faithfully practised what I learned, I would become a great leader. I would feel uncertain about nothing, and I would always know what to do. People would respect me and follow me.

Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” I have come to understand this saying. There truly is no end to learning.  Many times over the years I felt like I was underachieving as a leader and concluded that it was because I simply hadn’t learned enough yet. “Give me time and I will get there,” is what I told myself.

As I got older and wiser, I became aware of the glaring holes in my capabilities. There are things about me that no amount of learning could fix. So, I started to surround myself with people who were strong in areas where I was weak. This helped a lot. “I just need to build a bigger team full of great people and I will get there,” is what I thought.

So, I merrily went on, learning more, understanding myself better, and expanding the team. Over time, this did produce some great results. But I always felt I was missing something – something that no amount of book learning or team building was going to improve.

Something has changed over the past few years. I think the final ingredient slipped into place without my consent or understanding. I sensed it, I knew something was changing inside me, but I did not have the words for it. A TED Talk by researcher and storyteller Dr. Brené Brown helped me understand it better.

Brown would say what it boils down to is that I have become more courageous. I have become so not by fully mastering some set of skills or proving myself to perfection. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve made many mistakes along the way. I have failed time and again as a leader, spouse, parent, and friend, just as we all have. As the complexity and pace of my life and business have increased, the pace at which I screw up has increased accordingly. I have been pushed out of the shadows and into the light with nowhere to hide so many times that I have become used to simply doing the best I can. Along the way, I discovered that if I am open about the fact that I am not perfect and that I need help, I am more forgiving of the imperfections of others.

No matter the setback, I still have a great team at work, a loving wife at home, kids who still seem to respect me, and a whole community of friends and acquaintances who don’t think less of me. I can’t help but feel more real and more willing to make mistakes knowing that being perfect is not what it is about. It is about feeling connected, and if we are true to ourselves and the people around us, connection can build resilience for all.

Dr. Brené Brown’s TED Talk is one of the best I have ever seen. I highly recommend it.