What Quintessential Leadership Looks Like: Acknowledging Your Limitations

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Qualities of a Quintessential Leader
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Unquintessential leaders don't acknowledge their limitations and are chameleonsIt seems to be more and more difficult – if not impossible – for people to acknowledge their limitations in any area of life. Because of the ubiquitous influence of technology – and our exploding addiction to it – society in general seems to have been lulled into the deception that everyone’s an expert, everyone knows everything, and no one has any limitations.

Quintessential leaders stand out as the increasingly rare exceptions to this general trend. We know our areas of expertise, but equally important, we know our limitations even in those areas as well as our limitations in all the other areas where we are either not experts or truly don’t have clue. 

What does not acknowledging our limitations, which is what unquintessential leaders do, look like? What causes it? And what are the results?

Do you know people who seem to be chameleons? Are you a chameleon?

Chameleons – the reptiles – are notorious for adapting to whatever environment they are in by changing their skin color to match the environment around them. This is both a protective function (you can’t be eaten if you can’t be seen) and a predatory function (if your prey can’t see you, they’ll willingly stroll casually right into being your dinner). 

In many ways, human chameleons can have the same protective and predatory functions.

Not all human chameleons are even aware that they are chameleons. In this case, the chameleon function is protective.

Protective chameleonThe way it looks in humans as protective function is that they change completely to fit in whatever group they are in at a given time. They literally look like several different people in one body.

Perhaps these chameleons are unaware of the striking contradictions this presents in the big picture of their lives. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because the reward they receive is what matters most.

These protective chameleons are insecure with themselves and with their abilities. They are people-pleasers and they want everybody to like them and to accept them. They are consummate “yes” people to everybody. They’re always the first to agree, the first to raise their hands, and the first to say they’re on board with anything in any group they are in.

The results of being a protective chameleon bring about the exact opposite of what protective chameleons are trying to achieve.

Because they can’t possibly do everything they agree to do, they either just simply don’t do most of what they say they will do or they take so long to do it that someone else ends up having to get it done.

This often looks like procrastination, but in reality it’s the result of needing to be liked and accepted to such a great extent that protective chameleons overpromise and overcommit, knowing they can’t do – and perhaps not even intending to do – what they’ve promised and committed to do. 

Therefore, protective chameleons are undependable. They appear to be wishy-washy. And they destroy trust.

Predatory chameleonPredatory chameleons are consciously duplicitous and deceitful. They knowingly pretend to be an integral part of whatever group of people they are with. These people are often charming and engaging, and they will encourage full disclosure with assurances of confidentiality in each group they’re with.

Predatory chameleons are information brokers. Their sole intent is to get information and use that information for their own gain (money or power or both).

Predatory chameleons have played the game a long, long time and they know exactly what they are doing and they know the rewards it will bring them. In other words, they don’t care as long as they get what they want.

Like protective chameleons, predatory chameleons also destroy destroy trust. Unlike most protective chameleons, predatory chameleons also intentionally destroy lives. That is actually part of the reward for them.

No matter which type of chameleon these people are, one of the common characteristics they share is the inability and the unwillingness to ever acknowledge their limitations. In other words, they are fundamentally, whether its conscious or not, dishonest.

Quintessential leaders, on the other hand, value honesty and integrity as essential parts of their character.

Quintessential leaders are not going to pretend to be somebody they are not or to know something they don’t or to do something they either can’t do or don’t want to do.

Saying “no” is not taboo. In fact, it’s often the right thing to do. It is often the smart thing to do. It is often the sane thing to do. 

But we live in a society where saying “yes,” even if it’s a lie, to everything is not only accepted, but expected.

That’s a significant integrity problem that the entire human race is saddled with now. And, sadly, few people recognize it and even fewer people struggle against it to do the right thing.

Shame on us.

There is also a lot of integrity in saying “I don’t know,” which is what quintessential leaders do when they really don’t know something.

Of course, they always offer to find out if that “I don’t know” is just something they are unfamiliar with, but would be able to do with the right resources or if that “I don’t know” means they really aren’t able to do something.

So, quintessential leaders not only recognize their limitations, but they also acknowledge them. They believe in and practice full disclosure of what they are able do and what they aren’t able to do at all times.

It might cost them financially because they lose potential business and income to someone else who can do what they can’t.

It might cost them socially because they won’t conform to norms that violate their principles and beliefs.

But here is the one thing it won’t cost them: trust. Even if quintessential leaders lose potential customers (and income) or they lose social relationships because they acknowledge their limitations, they will have built trust.

The social relationships generally don’t come back and that, in the end, is just as well. But even those people will remember the quintessential leader as someone who had integrity and courage even if they vehemently disagree with them.

Potential customers, on the other hand, even though they may have chosen a different route, will remember the trustworthiness of quintessential leaders and they will come back in the future. That’s a guarantee.

Especially in a world where honesty and trust is in short supply and each passing day reveals more broken trust and dishonesty everywhere we look.

Once trust is broken, it is, seldom, if ever, possible to regain it and/or repair it. It is one of the most valuable things that each us has and it is heartbreaking to see how lightly and casually we treat it. 

So now is the time for you and me who are striving to become quintessential leaders to look into our own lives and see where we stand in the area of acknowledging our own limitations.

chameleon-unquintessential-leaderAre we chameleons? 

If we are chameleons, are we protective chameleons or are we predatory chameleons?

If we are chameleons, are we okay with being chameleons, no matter which type we are?

Are we consistently striving to be quintessential leaders in this area of our lives?

No matter what you and I answer to these questions, if we aren’t happy with the answer, there is a remedy.

The remedy is change. Change requires us to be rigorously honest with ourselves. Change requires us to be conscious of the things that we are doing and why. Change requires us to consciously replace the behavior we don’t want with the behavior we do want.

As always, change is a process and none of us change easily or perfectly or overnight. But we can’t change if we don’t commit to it and don’t take that first step and follow it up with every other step toward the right direction.

How are we doing?

 

Comments
  1. […] lack of consistency in who they are, what they are, and in everything they do and say. They are chameleons. They are […]

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