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In Praise of the Incomplete Leader | 不完美領導力

No leader is perfect.  The best ones don’t try to be - they concentrate on honing their strengths and find others who can make up for their limitations.

We’ve come to expect a lot from our leaders; they should understand immense complexity, inspire commitment to the right vision, transform strategy into results...  but this myth of the complete leader, the flawless person at the top who’s got it all figured out (and the accompanying fear of appearing incompetent), leads many executives to exhaust themselves and damage their organizations in the process.  The “incomplete leader” who understands his/her strengths and weakness, engages leadership throughout the organizational hierarchy wherever expertise, vision, new ideas and commitment are found.  The MIT Leadership Center developed a model of four capabilities that enable distributed leadership, they are:

  1. Sensemaking: understanding the context in which an organization of people operate.
  2. Relating: building relationships within and across organizations.
  3. Visioning: creating a compelling picture of the future.
  4. Inventing: developing new ways to achieve the vision.

These capabilities span the intellectual, interpersonal, rational, intuitive, conceptual and creative capacities required in today’s organizational environment (read the April 2010 newsletter “Prototypings/建構原型 to observe parallels between the four capabilities and the U process).  Rarely, if ever, will someone be equally skilled in all four competencies.  Incomplete leaders cultivate good judgement on how to work with others to build their strengths and offset their limitations.  



Leaders who are strong in Sensemaking quickly capture the complexities of their environment and explain them to others in simple terms.  At IDEO, a product design firm, Sensemaking is step #1 for brainstorming a new design; IDEO’s teams act as anthropologists to understand a product from as many points of view as possible. 

Sensemaking involves:

  1. Getting data from multiple sources.
  2. Involving others in your process: saying what you think you are seeing, and checking with people who have different perspectives from yours.  And avoid applying existing frameworks such as describing the world in stereotypical ways: good & bad guys, victims & oppressors, marketers & engineers.
  3. Testing conclusions by sharing observations from small experiments; and look for new ways to articulate alternatives and to understand options.



Many leaders attempting to foster trust, optimism and consensus reap cynicism and frustration instead because they have difficultly relating to people who make sense of the world differently than they do.  Building networks of trusting relationships is a requirement of effective leadership today.  Three key ways to strengthen our ability to relate are: 

  1. Inquiring, 
  2. Advocating, and
  3. Connecting.   

Inquiring means listening with the intention of genuinely understanding the thoughts and feelings of the speaker.  The listener suspends judgment and genuinely tries to comprehend how & why the speaker has moved up the ladder of inference from data to interpretations and generalizations (read about the Ladder of Inference in the October 2010 newsletter “Learning Organizations/學習型組織) 

Advocating means explaining one’s own point of view.  It is the opposite of inquiring and is how leaders communicate to others how they reached their interpretations and conclusions.  Good leaders distinguish observations from their opinions and judgments and explain their reasoning without aggression or defensiveness.  

Balancing inquiring and advocating is ultimately about showing respect, challenging opinions, asking questions and taking a stand.

Connecting involves cultivating a network of confidants who help a leader accomplish a wide range of goals.  Leaders strong in connecting understand that time spent building and maintaining these connections is an investment in their own leadership skills.  Because no one person can even know the right questions to ask, it’s crucial that leaders be able to tap into networks of people who can fill in the gaps.

Sensemaking and Relating are the enabling conditions of leadership motivating and sustaining change.  The next two leadership capabilities - Visioning and Inventing - are creative and action oriented, producing the focus and energy needed to make change happen.


While Sensemaking maps what is, Visioning maps what could be & what a leader wants the future to be.   It is much more than pinning a vision statement to the wall.  A shared vision is not static, it’s an ongoing process: dynamic and collaborative; a process of articulating what the members of an organization want to create together.

Fundamentally, visioning gives people a sense of meaning in their work.  Leaders who are skilled in this capability have people excited about their view of the future while inviting others to crystallize that image.  They know that if the vision is credible and compelling enough, others will generate ideas to advance it.  


Even the most compelling vision will lose power if floating unconnected above the daily reality of organizational life.  Inventing is what moves a business from the abstract world of ideas to the concrete world of implementation.  

To realize a new vision, people can’t keep doing the same things they’ve been doing.  They must conceive, design and put into practice new ways of interacting and organizing.   

Cultivating Invention:

  1. Be aware of your assumptions that the way things have been done is the best way to do them.
  2. Experiment with alternative methods for grouping and linking people.  Ask “what other options are possible?”


Balancing the Four Capabilities

Sensemaking, Relating, Visioning and inventing are interdependent: without Sensemaking there’s no common view of reality from which to start, without Relating, people work in isolation or strive toward different aims, without Visioning, there’s no shared direction.  Without Inventing, a vision remains illusory.  No leader will excel at all four capabilities in equal measure.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to create an environment where leadership is distributed across multiple people throughout the organization - complementing one another’s strengths and weaknesses. 

It’s time to put the myth of the “complete leader” to rest, for the sake of individuals and the health of organizations.  Even the most talented leaders require input and leadership of others constructively solicited and creatively applied.  It’s time now for a culture shift and to celebrate the incomplete - human - leader!


This article is adapted from the 2007 Harvard Business Review publication “In praise of the incomplete leader”



一直以來我們對領導人充滿期待--他們應該理解業務的超複雜性、激發員工朝著正確的願景效命、將策略轉化為成果等等,但是這種對高階主管無所不能完美無缺的神話(還有不可表現出無能的恐懼),導致許多高管在管理過程中耗盡心力,也不利於組織。 但是“不完美領導人“ 很清楚自身的長處和弱點,透過整個組織架構中善用其領導力,隨時發掘專才、願景、新理念及承諾。麻省理工學院領導力中心開發了一個四大領導能力,可以強化分散式領導:

  1. 掌握情況:理解、掌握組織成員運作情況。
  2. 建立(人際)關係: 建立組織內外人脈與關係
  3. 共創願景:創造一個觸動人心的未來宏圖。
  4. 創新發明:開發創新的方法來實現願景。





一個產品設計公司,掌握情況是針對一項新設計在做腦力激盪的第一步; IDEO的團隊就像人類學家,盡可能的從各種不同角度來瞭解一個產品。

掌握情況包括: 1、多方蒐集資訊。 2、邀請其他人參與:與不同意見的人共同討論你所理解、看到的。不要死守既有的架構,例如使用既有的二分描述法:好人/壞人、被害人/壓迫者、行銷人員/工程師。 





  1. 探詢
  2. 闡述
  3. 建立人脈  

探詢是在傾聽的過程中,真心瞭解對方的想法與感受。聽者不做任何評判,全心的去了解對方如何逐步解讀資訊並詮釋及一般化。(請參閱2010年10月電子報“學習型組織 /學習型組織有關推理的階梯)

闡述是解釋自己的觀點。與探詢完全相反,是領導人如何將自己得到的詮釋與結論傳達給其他人。一個好的領導人會清楚的區分他所表達的只是觀察而不是意見或是評判,並以理直氣和的方式說明原因。 要在探詢與闡述己見間取得平衡的終極方式就是以尊敬的態度提出挑戰性的意見,有立場的發問。





基本上,共創願景能賦予員工工作的意義。深諳其中道理的領導者,藉者邀請所有人建立更清晰未來意象的同時,也鼓舞了大家。領導者很清楚只要願景可信又吸引人,其他人自會想辦法去完成。 創新發明




  1. 覺察自己是否已經先有了各項運作已「趨於完美」的假設。
  2. 沙盤推演替代方案來分組及連結不同的人,詢問:還有其他可行的選項嗎?








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