I came across a definition of leadership the other day that really struck a chord.

“Leadership is…not perfect.”

All it takes is four simple words to tell us that, sometimes, the path of leadership is not a straight line. It’s not perfect. Occasionally, the only way forward is a zigzag.

Think about a mountain road. Do mountain roads go straight up one side and straight down the other? No. They go where the solid ground is. This means they often zigzag back and forth, back and forth from base to peak and down again. Is it the most efficient path to travel? No. Does it take longer to travel this zigzag path than it would a straight line? Yes. But the destination for both paths is still the same. Both paths reach the other side of the mountain.

But while the literal road over the mountain is the result of meticulous planning and calculation, the metaphorical road over the mountain—our leadership—may sometimes be the result of mistakes and setbacks. Does that mean we have somehow failed as a leader? If our path—be it a particular project or our life in general—tends to wander and wind at times, does that mean we should just give up and go home? Absolutely not.

Mistakes are inevitable

One thing I can guarantee is that, as leaders, we will make mistakes. At times, we will successfully implement things we have learned. At other times, we will get distracted and forget to implement what we know. The fact that it happens is not the point…because it will happen, over and over again. The point is that when mistakes occur, we have to remember to give ourselves a break. Sometimes we have to take a step back in order to take three steps forward. Sometimes the road has to go left, right, or even down before it can go up or over. We have to let it.

If leadership is about who you are and what you represent, then it’s a life’s work. It’s not about each and every mistake you make along the way. We are all a work in progress and will zigzag our way toward becoming the best we can be. We will also zigzag our way toward inspiring the best in others. The thing about mistakes is that they tend to get lost amongst a lifetime of successes. Yes, the destination can make the difficulties that inevitably come worthwhile, but the whole process of growing and developing as a leader is what leadership is all about, just as the whole process of growing and developing on the journey is what life is about.

It’s very much like driving…perhaps over that very mountain road of which we are speaking. When we get going 60, 70, or more miles per hour, the landscape outside becomes blurred and we can lose some rather important details. To reverse a common aphorism, we can lose the trees for the forest. Only when we slow down will those details become more readily visible.

Keep on truckin’

So keep going. Keep getting it right. But slow down once in a while and take a look at how you got where you are. And by all means, keep making mistakes. Yes, you read that right. Keep making mistakes.

Sometimes, making mistakes can be more instructive than getting it right all the time. The important thing about making mistakes is to learn from them. When we examine our mistakes, see how and why they occurred, and reflect on what they mean, we can gain insights about a project, about leadership, about life, that we would have missed had the road been straight. So keep reflecting. Keep learning. And by all means, keep moving forward even if it’s just little by little.

Fulfill your potential

One thing I know. Whether your road is a straight line or a zigzag, if you choose to do so, you can absolutely fulfill your potential as a leader. You already know most of what you need to know—if not all of it. So just do it! And if mistakes occur—if your road begins to curve back on itself—don’t be afraid to slow down and examine the process. Don’t be afraid to examine your leadership. Don’t be afraid to examine your life.

If that seems daunting, get help. I am always on the lookout for senior leaders who really want to make a difference, to examine themselves, and to examine the leadership process. And, contrary to popular belief, asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness. It means that you know yourself. You know your abilities. You know your strengths and your weaknesses. It also means you are humble enough to realise that someone else may be better than you in some areas. Both of these—self-knowledge and humility—are important characteristics of a successful leader.

I can be that help. I can help you find success amidst your mistakes. I can get you back on the road that leads to the peak, the pinnacle, the top of the mountain. I can help you get so much more out of your team. Just drop me a line and let’s have a chat.

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Peter Anderton

Author: Peter Anderton

A sought after coach and change agent, Peter has spent many years in Organisational Development, focusing on developing high performance leadership teams, executive coaching, strategy and change. He builds relationships quickly and is as comfortable in the boardroom as he is at ‘grass roots’. Known for his integrity, energy and a real passion for making things happen, he has a uniquely direct yet supportive style that delivers.

Peter is a qualified NLP master practitioner, a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a Chartered Engineer.