Awareness of Limitations – A Key Leadership Skill

Effective leaders are aware of their limitations and seek input from people with perspectives different from their own.

I have been coaching personal and leadership development for over 30 years and have found that most people like to hear about themselves and what they do well. While all the common skills of leaders are challenging, the first, having your strengths identified and validated is a whole lot easier than facing that there are things at which you are not particularly gifted. In the glow of hearing all about one’s strengths and the power of natural skills, limitations are easily ignored or minimized. It is, however, equally important for those who would lead to face that there are more skills for which they have little or no natural aptitude than there are skills for which they do.

WantToBeAnEffectiveLeaderI believe that the main reason for the difficulties we have hearing about those things at which we do not do well is that most of us have had plenty of input and feedback about our shortcomings. In the name of becoming a “well rounded person” we have, from a very early age, received extensive feedback about where we don’t measure up – school evaluations, and performance reviews come immediately to mind. In addition, we know that following the presentation of our “failures” that we will be presented with a series of recommended solutions, programs, and steps for us to take to turn these “failures” into successes. We have vast experience with the success of this type of approach to mitigating our limitations – they don’t work, they tire us, and they waste our time. Is it any wonder that people balk at hearing about, much less accepting, their limitations?

My message is different. I point out and want leaders to accept their limitations, so they can stop trying to be good at everything and leave these unnatural acquired skills to others for whom they are natural. To develop your natural leadership skills and strengths to their highest potential demands that you let go of behavior that is innately foreign – your limitations. Just as importantly, until you acknowledge that there are things that others do better naturally and more effectively than you, you cannot open yourself to the value of their input and its positive impact on your leadership effectiveness.

Leadership is not about doing it all yourself, it is about knowing how to connect with others in a way that inspires them to follow. You cannot connect with others in this way if you cannot truly accept that the differences in how you and they see things are not problems to be fixed. If you cannot connect with others then it will be impossible to lead them.

Too many times I have coached “effective” leaders who refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of others’ viewpoints, so that while they were viewed as leaders within the executive level because they had all the “right” leadership attributes, their followers were not inspired and were, in fact, often put-off by their singular viewpoint. I describe this as the “OK, now that I recognize that there are differences, how do I go about getting those people with the “wrong” viewpoint to see it my way?” approach.

Developing this difficult leadership skill is not about diminishing the role or importance of a leader, quite the opposite. It is about understanding and accepting that great things are not accomplished alone and that leadership involves knowing how to pull the best from followers in spite of inherent human differences.

When working on developing this skill, what is being sought is an intellectual understanding and acknowledgement both of one’s own limitations and of the value of the skills and viewpoint that others bring to the table. Development coaching of this skill involves:

  • identifying, listing, and discussing a leader’s blind spots,
  • challenging areas of denial with examples and humor,
  • acknowledging the pain and frustration of facing shortcomings,
  • validating and praising legitimate acceptance of limitations,
  • identifying the skills, input, and perspective needed from others,
  • working to determine from whom the leader can get them,
  • identifying and reinforcing instances of seeking input from others.

Developing the first two common leadership skills is a challenge, but it is often more intellectual, opening one’s mind to new possibilities, than it is emotional or experiential. Identifying one’s leadership skills and accepting one’s leadership limitations comprise the expert knowledge required to reach the level of novice leader. There are three additional leadership skills required to reach the level of leadership mastery. I will write about them in future articles.

Interested in building your natural leadership strengths or discovering new insights about your leadership strengths?  For more information about our leadership programs, go to

About Gary M. Jordan Ph.D.

Gary M. Jordan, Ph.D. is a premier authority on behavioral theories and assessment construction. He has over 32 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. Gary earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley, and spent 18 years in private practice where he specialized in helping angry adolescents, couples in conflict, and individuals searching for more meaning and satisfaction in life.
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