The leadership seat can be a lonely place in more ways than one. The responsibility of making decisions that impact others' lives and livelihoods so directly can be isolating, and the sense of being looked to as an example for those in your organization can be a weight!

But what if you shifted your thinking about the kind of example you were called to set?

No matter how confident, strategic, or all-around brilliant you are as a CEO or business owner, you might not be setting the example you think you are—unless you also lean into a couple of unexpected growth areas.

Set an example by allowing yourself to change.

If you'll bear with me for a second, think about Stanley Tucci. Picture him as a harried, Italian restaurant owner in Big Night, a repulsive, predatory murderer in The Lovely Bones, Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a strangely flamboyant game host in The Hunger Games. While so many actors repeatedly find themselves typecast into the same role, Tucci has demonstrated an admirable ability to flex and grow from decade to decade and project to project.

We tend to limit ourselves and others through our own daily version of typecasting. Maybe you've known someone who was particularly interested in one personality typing model or another—the Enneagram, Myers Briggs, or something similar. The Enneagram, at least, is meant as a personal growth tool, providing guidance around what change, development, and flexibility can look like for you. But it's very easy to stop focusing on personal growth and our ability to adapt instead of describing our reactions and patterns with phrases like, "Well, that's just who I am." It's also easy to equate the stable, decisive leadership persona with a deeper lack of flexibility that blocks you from openness to personal growth or a ready willingness to change your mind on essential issues.

Your team members want to follow in the footsteps of a leader who never stops being willing to learn and grow, is open to truly listening to those who are different from them, and never settles into thinking of themselves as fully formed and done developing. They will trust and follow you best when you demonstrate the ability to change your mind, become more well-rounded, and embrace growth and personal change.


Set an example by showing weakness.

"As I started to move up the ranks, I learned number one, people connect through your weaknesses rather than your strengths, and so you have to be willing to share more of yourself and be vulnerable if you want to be a leader, particularly at the higher levels."

- Marquette University President Michael Lovell, on Leadership Lens on the BizTimes MKE Podcast

If you've worked hard and accomplished exciting things as a leader, it can be tempting to function from a position of strength. We may even see this as an ideal way to inspire confidence and encourage the team, but you probably already know the truth: that vulnerability is more powerful than the "no chinks in the armor" approach every time. Most people can smell a rat, and a leader who pretends to be more than human simply will not be trusted. (You've probably experienced your fair share of artificially, perfectly shiny leaders yourself.)

A false veneer of confidence creates a lack of genuineness in our relationships. Your people will feel that distance and reciprocate it; they may even, ultimately, leave. If they have a leader who knows everything and can do everything, there's no room for them to make any difference. There is no room for "we."

The world's most effective or charismatic leader will not truly lead their teams by example unless they lean into their essential humanness by listening humbly, changing willingly, and being vulnerable with those around them.

Interested in continuing to lean into this deeper, more human leadership model? Learn more about how the Acumen community can support you today.