Friday, March 21, 2014

I don't want a perfect president

Last Tuesday, President Henry B. Eyring, first vice chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees announced the Kevin J. Worthen as the next president of BYU.  It was an exciting day and people seem excited and optimistic about the future here on campus.
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I was in the meeting when the announcement was made, and happened to be sitting next to a neighbour and friend who knows President Worthen quite well.  As soon as the meeting was over, and again as we were walking back to our offices on campus, my friend said:  "I've never seen him take a misstep."  

Typically, when something like that is said about a person, it is meant to be laudatory.  The message is "Here is a person who doesn't screw things up (or at least not publicly)."  Usually, we say things like this about people who we like, who we trust, and who we want others to see as competent.  So, in that sense, it was a perfectly reasonable thing for my friend to say about someone who he looks up to and sees as a great leader.

But, to be honest, I would have been much more impressed had I heard something like:  "Once I saw him take a misstep (and it was pretty bad), but then this is what he did to acknowledge it and try and fix it."  The reality is that every leader makes mistakes.  Most are behind the scenes and minor enough that they don't impact the organization on a general level, and no one ever knows about them.  But, occasionally (and I would argue at least once in every leader's tenure), they will take a major misstep.  They'll say something stupid, make a prediction that isn't just way off but that leads to losses, or make some other kind of decision that is highly public and, in hindsight, highly inadvisable.

When that happens, I'm much more interested in being led by someone who has learned to respond well in those situations (as I've argued before here).  As helpful as it is for the media and others to perpetuate the narrative of how skilled, competent and seemingly perfect President Worthen is, I'm waiting to hear stories of missteps, mistakes, and what he has done in the past when that has happened.  That narrative is much more telling and, I think, can build more confidence than sanitized stories of how everything a leader touches turns to gold.

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