I want to describe to you a practice that is essential to great leadership in any arena. It is hard for most leaders to do, frankly, but it can alter your impact on others and it has the added benefit of being good for the soul.
This practice is captured in this phrase: “Hang a lantern on your weaknesses.” Obviously, this phrase comes down to us from generations ago when you walked from the farmhouse to the barn, for example, and you hung your lantern on a peg so you could milk the cow or saddle the horse. To “hang a lantern” means simply to shine a light, to illuminate. So, I’m urging you to shine a light on your weaknesses in front of those you lead.
You see, in an age of constant brand management, we usually try to hide whatever is weak or unsightly about us. “Put your best face forward,” we are told. Here’s the problem. People usually see what is wrong with us. They just want to know if we do. Are we blind to our flaws? Are we deceptive about them? Can we be trusted with such things?
I know a leader who is not a good public speaker. He never will be. He was born with a deformed mouth and while you can understand him, he will never be a Reagan or a Lincoln. But he is a good leader. He’ll say things to his team like this: “Well, you know I’m not any good at speaking. I’ll never be a Churchill. But what I do know is that we can do great things together and you can help me be better.” I mean, his people adore him. Why? He doesn’t hide his weakness. He calls others to help him overcome his flaws. He makes his flaw a reason his team is so dear to him.
I know another leader who has founded a magnificent company but who has no college degree. He hires PhDs by the ton, but he never went to school himself. He used to try to hide it. Now, he just makes it part of his leadership. “You know, I’m privileged to work with all you smart people,” he says. “I never went to college, but it pleases me that I’ve been able to start something that allows me to learn from you. Maybe we can achieve some wonderful things together.” Now, I’ve seen Ivy League PhDs with tears in their eyes at moments like this, because they love this man, love his humility, and love that they have opportunity to work in harness for noble purposes.
This is leadership. It isn’t theater. It isn’t manipulation. You have to be genuine about it. But if you can summon the honesty from your soul and put it out there for all to see, you’ll find people rallying to your aid. You’ll also find yourself being freed of your insecurity or your shame or your weakness.
Can you do it? Of course you can. But you might need some soul inventory time to get there. I’m proud of you for trying.