Mark Craemer 2 Comments

“Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world.” — Miguel De Cervantes

Great leaders have many attributes. Among them are clarity, vision, humility and courage. When we see these traits in our leaders we are inspired to follow.

By courage I mean more than the ability to make hard business decisions, give difficult feedback or even to fire someone. It also has to do with the ability to truly see ourselves as others see us, even when others’ perceptions don’t match our own.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “The First Requirement for Becoming a Great Boss,” authors Linda Hill and Kent Lineback say that the courage to see oneself as others see them is vitally important.

Ironically, this type of courage may seem counter to the stoic image we have of what a strong leader looks like. This is because it requires the vulnerability to open oneself to other’s perceptions of them. It means accepting these perceptions as more data in order to learn and grow as a leader.

While all these perceptions may not necessarily be accurate or helpful, many of them are extremely useful in terms of determining whether the perception you have of your management style is shared by those you lead.

Getting this feedback, however, may be difficult for two reasons: One, the people you lead may not believe you really want critical information, and even if you do, it may negatively impact their near or long term employment. Two, critical information is hard to receive and your immediate reaction may make you defensive and/or emotionally weakend.

If you already are a leader who can be trusted by your people then you should be able to address the first concern. Ask yourself: are you able to hear negative or critical information about things and accept them with grace? Or do you overreact by looking to place blame rather than find sustainable solutions?

It may take time to foster the kind of trust that enables your people to deliver the kind of critical feedback you as a leader needs in order to see yourself clearly. It is possible that only your spouse or a trusted friend can convey this kind of information to you now. But these people probably don’t work with you and therefore cannot accurately assess and inform you of your shortcomings in the workplace.

You may choose to use anonymous surveys as a way of gathering this data where there is less fear of personal reprisals. Building a trusted work environment where your people feel comfortable delivering this critical feedback directly would be preferable, however, because it can happen more frequently and strengthen communication and productivity.

The second reason has to do with the inherent resistance we have to hearing negative information about ourselves. Few of us welcome hearing about our shortcomings, and this is where the courage is necessary.

In the same way having a difficult conversation with a friend or loved one can make us vulnerable and leave us emotionally raw, a courageous leader needs to be open to hearing difficult personal information as a way to learn and grow.

Most leaders had to learn to accept critical feedback in order to reach the position they are in. Performance reviews and 360 feedback reports has helped leaders to handle difficult personal information.

However, when it comes to asking for and receiving critical information from those who report to you outside of these formal channels, it may be much harder to do.

The courage to do this is to remind yourself that emotional growth is critical to your continued success and development as a leader. It has to do with emotional intelligence. It means accepting that being emotionally vulnerable is not a weakness, but a strength and it demonstrates your humanity.

The more you as a leader are able to embrace this notion of courageous vulnerability, the more you will grow and develop as a leader.


  1. Hmm it looks like your site ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

    I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips and hints for first-time blog writers? I’d definitely appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.