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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

Great Leaders Make Mistakes

Great leaders make mistakes and know they don't have all the answers.

For decades, the laws of business leadership have viewed vulnerability

as weakness. Today, more and more leaders in a

variety of realms are realizing that this is simply a psychological

case of the king has no clothes on. Vulnerability doesn’t

weaken us as leaders, it makes us stronger. When we reveal

our struggles to others, their natural inclination is to want to

help. This vulnerability is difficult, but essential, to the modern


There is no point pretending to your children that you

never make mistakes. Soon enough, they grow old enough to

realize that you do and then you lose credibility, and a leader

without credibility has no one to lead but himself.

I remember once as a child getting in trouble and my

mother sending me to my room. I was to stay there until

my father came home. When Dad arrived home my mother

briefed him on what I had done, no doubt, and then sent him

to talk to me. When he came into my room, I was lying on

my bed and he sat down in my desk chair. He asked me how

I was and I replied, “Fine.” He asked me what was happening

in my life, and I said, “Nothing.” I was expecting him to

get mad and be angry with me, but he wasn’t. Then he told

me a story about a time in his life when he had done some-

thing pretty stupid. By telling me a story about how he once

messed up, he made himself vulnerable. That vulnerability

created a bond, a connection, an intimacy. When he was finished

with his story he said, “Now, Matthew, your mother

tells me you’ve done a stupid thing. You’re a smart kid. If you

keep doing things like that, what sort of a life will it lead to?

Build yourself a good life, and I’m here to help you

with that.”

My father never even mentioned what I had done to be

sent to my room, but by revealing a little about his own mistakes

and faults, he gave me permission to be human. And

we need that. As strange as it may seem, we need permission

to be human. Children need it more than anyone else. It

would be a tragedy to create a fear of failure in a child. Three

hundred as a batting average makes you among the best in

baseball, and I suspect the same is true in life. Great leaders

make a lot of mistakes but they admit them, learn from them,

and press on.

The other quality found in leaders who are secure in who

they are is that they don’t pretend to have all the answers. It

is a mistake to think that you always have to have the answers

for your children. Mostly because it stems from a pride

that is dangerous in and of itself, but also because it robs you

of one of your great opportunities as a parent—the opportunity

to teach your children how and where to find answers to


It’s okay to say “I don’t know!” But let’s be quick to follow

it up with “But let’s find out!”

As a child, I was taken to the library to investigate such

questions. Today I suppose it is just as easy to jump on

Google, do a quick search, and find the answer. Empowering

children to find answers is one of the most practical gifts we

can give them as parents, and one we only think to give them

after we admit we don’t have all the answers. Sure, you could

go off and find the answer and bring it back to them and continue

the all-knowing pretense. But you would be robbing

your child of a powerful life lesson.

Great leaders are not afraid to make mistakes, and they

are equally unafraid to say “I don’t know!”

Matthew Kelly

From Building Better Families

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