My post about the legacy of Ted Kennedy stirred up an interesting discussion in CCL’s LinkedIn Group. Our blog posts are fed in as News items for the group to read and discuss.  If you haven’t joined us there yet, we’d love to have you in the group.

Two of the main ideas in the discussion are:
Can someone reinvent themselves?
How “perfect” do role models need to be?

Here’s what I have been thinking.

I have witnessed high-impact experiences that prompt significant changes in people’s lives; personal transformations. People can and do make big changes in themselves. Not everyone experiences it, but some people do have a moment (or a time) when they decide – I’m not the person I want to be or that I could be.

What’s really interesting to me is how complex personal transformation is and how difficult it can be to foster. I usually think of things like a serious illness, the death of a loved one, or some other major event as a potential prompt. One discussant recommended the book The 12 Bad Habits That Hold Good People Back by Waldroop and Butler as a place to read more about personal transformations. Another goes so far as to say “A leader who has been through this comes out a better person and a better leader.” While facing significant challenge is not my idea of a good time, it can be one of the best teachers we have.

Regarding how perfect a role model needs to be, all leaders have flaws and experience failure. Having children and entering public office are two surefire ways to find out about your flaws and taking risks is bound to lead to failure at least some of the time. But without a little risk, nothing changes – which means nothing gets better.

On a side note, if someone learns from a risk that’s gone wrong, I’m not sure we should refer to it as failure, maybe just a mistake.

It’s difficult to know where to draw the line in terms of when flaws are too great or mistakes too frequent or severe for someone to be an effective leader. We all have different ideas about how and what we value as the “good” and how we weigh that against the “bad.” I guess that’s part of what makes leadership so interesting. In one context a leader who is a philanderer is no big deal, but in another, it is the leader’s undoing.

What flaws or mistakes do you think can revoke a leader’s “role model” status?

– Kelly Hannum

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