Turns out, Amazons, like humans, are perfectly imperfect. From her strong disposition, impressive intellect, incredibly quick wit, to her super human strength, Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman is the picture of the ideal disrupter. Sure of herself and invoking confidence in the people around her, Prince did not always approach the road ahead with the perfect answers or actions. She struggled with mankind letting her down in her quest for achieving the perfection she believed the world deserved.
When she finally understood that her mission was to fight for what she believed, she realized that people are perfectly imperfect. Her job was to lead in a new way.
Across the United States, female students account for 70 percent of high school valedictorians. Sure, high school girls tend to be more mature in thought and action than their male peers, but that's not necessarily the whole explanation.
From a very early age, girls are told to be perfect: Perfect looks, perfect clothes, perfect behavior and perfect grades. We take any imperfection personally and internalize it. We are taught that anything less than flawless must mean that we are not enough. Learn how you can avoid getting sucked into the rat hole of focusing on fixing imperfections in yourself and others as you lead disruption.
Prioritize asking why something didn't go as planned
After 24 years of running a company, Sue Chen, founder and CEO of NOVA Medical Products, has come to realize that imperfection is a human trait we all share. While her leadership style has evolved over the past two decades, her desire to connect with people has remain unchanged.
"I am the chief driver of my people's engagement and commitment. For me, human connection is my most effective tool to cultivate individual and corporate-wide engagement," says Chen. For Chen, this level of intimate leadership comes with the realization that she has played a role in her team's personal and professional journeys, imperfections and all.
Your people see, feel and respond to just about everything you do and say. While over-sharing or sharing without intent tends to backfire, communicating that growth and innovation come from adopting a learning mindset. Change leaders need to find the right level of transparency about their own imperfections. "It's important to be strategic in what you communicate and to emphasize the learning, action and growth," Chen says.
Chen's advice for leading through imperfection: Know the difference between human imperfection and potentially damaging behavior.
"Take time to understand why and how a failure or misstep occurred. "People are imperfect and that is the reality of each human being. However, having someone on the team with ill intent or with values that conflict with the team culture is a different realization that requires cutting ties," says Chen.
Imperfection does not equate to broken
Jane Finette, founder and president of The Coaching Fellowship, has built a career in technology that focused on human connections. For Finette, technology is the enabler for leaders and their stakeholders to build relationships at multiple levels while cultivating a safe culture for risk-taking, contribution and innovation.
"I fundamentally believe everyone has something to contribute. People are not broken. The job of leaders is to provide opportunities for people to grow, thrive and do their best work," says Finette.
While leading community engagement at Mozilla, Finette cut her teeth enabling large-scale change across a global ecosystem. That meant a lot of listening, learning and letting go. Rather than demanding perfection by employing a command-and-control approach to change governance, Finette used a decentralized approach where she created the right environment for every stakeholder to thrive.
"I set the vision and the goals. People need to know what they are aiming for and how their work impacts that month and that quarter," says Finette. By giving direction without micro-managing and making it a practice to see past people's past triumphs or losses and toward their potential, mistakes were par for the course in driving toward the collective vision of scale and innovation.
Finette's advice for leading through imperfection: Put your energy into the impact you want to make and not on creating perfection.
"As a leader, if you focus on imperfection, that is all you will get," says Finette.
Lead the way for imperfection
Driving large-scale change that lasts is incredibly difficult. While charismatic leaders can get everyone on board to support an exciting new vision, the execution of a seemingly flawless strategy never quite goes as planned. Stakeholders may have their own agendas and team members may not fully understand their roles or how to change to new behaviors and practices.
The key to enabling people to do their best work is to meet each individual where they are in order to get them where living the vision needs them to be. No one is perfect, not even leaders. It is the leader's job to find the right strategies that enable imperfect humans (i.e. everyone walking the earth) and themselves to disrupt and create positive change.
My advice for leading through imperfection: Reject perfection in favor of learning.
The idea that women (or men) have to be perfect is ridiculous. We humans have 150 different unconscious biases that dictate their decisions, what they value and how they act. While not all biases are bad, some may be holding people back. By focusing on learning as a result of work instead of perfection in product, biases are replaced with a willingness to change, to take risks and to challenge a status quo that stands in the way of positive disruption.