Imperfect but Impactful

I was recently facilitating a learning day with a colleague. In short, half of our day was spent in leadership development and half of our day was spent on strategic planning. The following day we met with a smaller subset of those who attended to ask for critical feedback. It was a great day, and you could feel that people were energized, but we probed a bit further to uncover how we might improve their experience and the work going forward.

They raved about how valuable they found the exercise my colleague led. If you are unfamiliar with the True Colors Inventory, it’s a method for getting to know yourself and others well, so you can leverage the valuable gifts that we all bring to the work more effectively. With the caveat, of course, that no test fully defines a person and that these tests contain fallibility. I’ve made friends with enough people with a psych background to know this.

They went on to explain that my portion of the experience designed around Brene Brown’s Daring Leadership assessment received mixed reviews. Some people in the room, especially those with more leadership development experiences, loved it while others felt lost.

I worked hard to present an open mind and positive energy while receiving this feedback. Internally, I was floundering. I went from 0-100 with negative self-talk. I could hear myself saying things like, “Maybe you shouldn’t be doing this work.” “Maybe you’re not a good fit for this team.” “Maybe you should tell your colleague he needs a different partner next time.”

I’m sharing this for a couple of reasons. To start, no one hits homeruns every time. It’s easy to believe that we are the only ones not knocking it out of the park every day when we turn to social media and are flooded with people’s best work.

Secondly, I’m sharing this as a reminder to pay attention to how we speak to ourselves. I would never speak that way to someone let alone someone with whom I care deeply. If we aren’t making mistakes or doing the work imperfectly, we probably aren’t doing work that really matters, or we aren’t being honest with ourselves. Doing the work imperfectly does not mean that the work isn’t valuable or impactful, and it doesn’t mean that we aren’t good at the work either.

During the drive home, I was talking to my colleague about it, and he did not take the feedback the way I received it. He was not having any thoughts about my capabilities or doubts about whether the work was any good. We both came to the conclusion that for my segment of the meeting, vulnerability is a big topic that may be too big for a 45 minute learning segment, especially when some of the participants may be unfamiliar with the facets of the concept and it’s value.

Perhaps they would benefit from something more tangible and concrete such asking for and accepting feedback. Ironic, eh? Something important and relatable, given my above story, and something that requires vulnerability. As Kim Scott explains in her book, Radical Candor, “The way you ask for criticism and react when you get it goes a long way toward building trust—or destroying it.”

My upcoming book is filled with stories like this – stories where I learned from mistakes. Because the world needs less shiny, perfect people and more people who are committed to being deeply human, sharing their mistakes, and learning with other people. I’m experiencing big fears the sooner this book comes to publication. What I’ve had to remind myself is that I didn’t write this book so people would think good things about me or my work. I wrote this book because I hope my learning can be of some value to others. It’s that simple. I wrote a book that I needed.

If we do not commit to sharing our mistakes early and often, we make these jobs something that only perfect people do. And there are no perfect people. I want to be someone who makes others feel capable and like they can expand and achieve things they never believed were possible. One way to model what that looks like is to show others that it does not have to be perfectly executed to be positively impactful.

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