Avoiding the Leadership “Comb Over”

We’ve all seen it.  The older man, clearly going bald, with extra-long strands of hair combed across the top of his head.  With a part beginning just above one ear, he carefully orchestrates these long hairs until their ends find their way somewhere near his other ear.  The comb over.

When we see it, we wonder why.  Why does he do it?  Why not just shave it all?  Bald is in.  Bald is cool.  Or, at least he could cut it close.  Anything but the comb over.  Maybe he is trying to regain a feeling a youthfulness (it won’t work).  Maybe he thinks no one notices (everyone does).  Maybe he thinks it looks natural (from what angle is he looking?).  Maybe he believes his head would not look good without hair on it (it has to look better than the comb over).

Here’s the deal.  The only thing the comb over does is announce to the world that he, in fact, is bald.  And also vain.  He is insecure.  He isn’t content with who he really is – a man who no longer has hair growing naturally on his head.  He is uncomfortable in his own skin.  And that makes us uncomfortable too.  We want to say to him, “It’s ok.  Let it go, man!  You really look silly and you don’t need to!”

Leaders can be like this.  If you haven’t taken the time to assess authentically your leadership shortcomings, your imperfections, your weaknesses, and your Achilles’ heel, you may be employing a “leadership comb over.”  In other words, you may be trying to hide, deflect attention from, or distort people’s view of your abilities as a leader.  But it doesn’t work.  Just like the hair comb over, everyone sees the leadership comb over.

Have you ever really asked yourself what deficiencies you have as a leader?  What is your greatest weakness?  And have you ever really answered it honestly and deeply –  not with the typical surface answer.  Give the real answer.  The answer that is the driving force for the surface answer.  For instance, a surface answer may be, “I sometimes micro-manage.”  The honest answer is, “I’m autocratic and don’t believe anyone can do anything as well as I can.”  Or, a surface might be, “I have a bit of temper.”  The honest answer is, “I’m selfish and when people don’t do exactly what I say I destroy them with words.”  Or, the surface answer may be, “I’m not very patient.”  The honest answer is, “I’m arrogant and consider anyone who makes a mistake to be incompetent.”

Know yourself.  Know your leadership weaknesses.  Not to get fixed – you probably won’t be able to “fix” your weaknesses.  Most of them are longstanding and deeply ingrained.  Your leadership weaknesses most likely were formed during your childhood.  And everyone has some weaknesses in any case.  And besides, I believe we are at our best when we work to our strengths, not spending energy attempting to fix or upgrade our problem areas.   So, don’t attempt to get “fixed” necessarily.

But it is still exceptionally important to know well your weaknesses.  When you do come to authentically understand your weaknesses as a leader, you give yourself the opportunity to work around them.  You see them.  You understand what situations cause your weaknesses to present themselves and become especially evident.

But more importantly, when you know your true leadership weaknesses, you gain confidence because you have a measure of self-awareness that exudes an air of ease.  You become contented with who you are as a leader and with what you can and can not do naturally.  You become calm because you accept your gaffes while also acknowledging your gifts and graces.  You get comfortable with yourself.  You get comfortable in your skin.  Ultimately, you get comfortable with your bald head.  And everyone else gets more comfortable with you, too.

1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Great post! So very relevant and real. It is important for leaders to reflect and know what are their strengths and weaknesses. Too many times I have observed leaders who don’t realize that their Achilles heel will eventually lead to their downfall. The most successful leaders that I know are those who can focus on their strengths and be honest about their shortcomings.

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