“Release the Burden of Being Perfect” -Robert Kaplan
At Saturday’s opening ceremony, Robert Kaplan, a renowned leadership professor at Harvard University who has held too many positions outside of academia to list, focused on advising the 1000 students squeezed into Memorial Church on how to become better leaders. Most of the ideas he discussed had a distinctly philosophical flavor. After talking about his ‘critical questions’, he noted that all leaders need to forget this idea of perfection. It can only create a crushing weight that nobody can hold up for long. We must be honest with our faults and realize that perfection is a goal that isn’t a goal–it’s a trap.
Kaplan placed four main suggestions and questions before us to answer in order to grow as leaders.
1. Write down your strengths and weaknesses.
While this may seem innocent enough, it’s the opposite, argued Kaplan. This simple list requires leaders to truly delve to the core of what they have to offer and what they need to work on. He also noted that if you don’t know what you’re struggling with, how can you possibly make a change? So, if you can’t list off your strengths and weaknesses, don’t assume you’ll make any improvements anytime soon.
2. Write down your passions.
How do you know what your passion is? “It’s when you’re at your best,” Kaplan stated. This is the moment where we are free of all outside forces and can simply embrace the sensation of being completely engaged in life. However readers be warned, things like peer pressure and ‘conventional wisdom’ will always seek to plant seeds of doubt. Be strong.
3. Write down your values.
Okay, so maybe you think that this is the piece you can skimp on. I mean in the seconds it took you to read #3 you probably had 4-5 words pop into your head. But, do you actually live by those values? Put another way, “what are your boundaries?” asked Kaplan. If you don’t seriously think about what lines you aren’t willing to cross (ex. I won’t…lie, cheat, steal, sabotage, coerce, etc.) then, “when the moment comes to make the decision, it’s too late,” warned Kaplan. As a leader, you have to think about your boundaries before the moment to act arrives or else, almost inevitably, you’ll rationalize any partially constructed boundaries away.
4. Do you practice…
The final piece of Kaplan’s Four was the idea of practice. Can you look yourself in the eye and honestly say you practice…”self-disclosure, listening, asking for advice” etc. Leaders cannot claim to be strong leaders without practicing the traits of robust leadership. What do you practice?
Finishing his practical advice for the future leaders sitting in the pews, Kaplan ended on a final piece of food for thought, a favorite quote of his by Albert Einstein.
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and what can be counted doesn’t always count.”
So take a chance, complete the Kaplan Four and see what you discover.