How incompletely complete are you?

A few days ago, I came across the term ‘incomplete leader’. Mentioned by Deborah Ancona who teaches at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, it alludes to the thought that most leaders cannot do everything and should not even try to. By themselves they are incomplete. But what they possess is a leadership signature – a unique way of leading.

Yes, this is similar to the thought of not being a perfectionist in just about everything that one does. And that it is okay to be imperfect at certain tasks or not know about them at all.

What does such a leader do then? This leader leans on to the strengths and competencies of others and builds a culture and team that can together co-create success and completeness.

However easy this may sound to be, in reality, this is a hard skill to practice at an individual level. We are constantly bombarded with thoughts of self-doubt and disbelief in our own strengths that leaning on someone else is seen as a sign of weakness and failure.

The quest for being complete a.k.a. perfect/perfection

From a very young age, it is drilled into us to do the best, give our best and win, win, win. Perfection is almost revered and aspired for. Not many encourage failures or low performance. The craze for getting top marks in school exams is a classic example of how children are goaded to believe that marks/numbers mean everything. Little wonder then that the ask to dissociate success from marks finds very new takers. Fortunately, we are now seeing a reversal in this thinking as we witness a surge in the rise of entrepreneurs, many of whom have begun from scratch, failed multiple times, and then tasted success.

The entrepreneurial mind-set is wired on the premise of taking risks and failing along the way. It is the team, a powerhouse of talent that works together to give shape to the dream of the entrepreneur. Here, clearly, the entrepreneur is an ‘incomplete’ leader – it is solely her/his vision, passion and drive that pushes the envelope. The potential to deliver is in the hands of the team. This leader knows how to let go of what she/he does not know and empower her/his colleagues to make the right choices and show results. Many large-scale organisations are now rethinking their own ability and agility to adapt and are eyeing the entrepreneurial mind-set as a vital tool to innovate.

Being comfortable with who you are

This brings us to the key point – how do we go about cultivating this mind-set and be comfortable with our inability to be ‘complete’? The answer lies in being comfortable with who we are as a person. That comfort is born from acceptance of self and a high degree of self-worth. It also calls for keeping the ego aside when you enter a room for discussion or are part of a meeting with diverse views. Agreeing to disagree and being open to new thoughts helps create effective action points and accelerates decision making. This works well, for both, internal as well as external stakeholders.

Here is a catch though – not many know their own self. We do not realise that we have this vast reservoir of potential that is untapped and that what is seen on the surface is just a miniscule part of who we actually are. The internal journey can often be painful and tedious. This is where coaching can play a vital role. Through coaching, the client is helped to maximise her/his fullest potential and find solutions to current situations.

The ‘incomplete leader’ is most sought after and is today a highly desirable skill that can help organisations navigate complex situations. Where are you in this journey?

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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