Leadership’s Fatal Flaw

Incompetence + Ignorance + Arrogance

I am not going to name any names, but in the light of the news that a delay in lockdown may have cost us 36,000 lives in the Coronavirus crisis, I am compelled to shine a light — (a la Louis Brandeis saying that “sunlight makes the greatest disinfectant’) — on what is clearly the most lethal and fatal flaw in a leader.

And that is incompetence plus ignorance combined with arrogance.

Just as a man preferring to wander around lost in the pre-Waze days rather than ask for directions is a sign of incompetence plus arrogance, a leader who is in over his (or her) head regarding knowledge or a deep understanding of any complex situation and refuses to ask for help because his/her arrogance believes that asking for help is a sign of weakness is dangerous and possibly even deadly.

What lies beneath the lethal combination of incompetence plus ignorance plus arrogance?

In other words, why won’t such a person ask for help, and even worse, won’t heed it when it is offered in spite of his/her not asking.

Have you ever discovered that as right as you thought you were is as wrong as you turned out to be?

If you’re not arrogant — and even if you are — it has happened to you, because that has happened to everyone. You needn’t think further than a divorce in a marriage that was supposed to survive until death do you part, or “can’t fail decisions you made in the crash of 2008,” or “the invincibility and imperviousness of a terrorist attack on September 10, 2001.

And what about the unsinkable Titanic?

The examples of turning out wrong when you were certain you were right occurring go on and on and are as old as humans having the ability to think and make decisions.

Didn’t Jesus say on the Cross? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing?” In essence, wasn’t He saying “as right as they think they are may be as wrong as they have turned out to be, but Father forgive them anyway, because they don’t know what they are doing.”

The main reason know-it-all’s who don’t know what they’re talking about cannot conceive that as right as they think they are is as wrong as they might turn out to be is because if they were wrong about something they were so certain about, maybe they’re wrong about everything. And if they let that into their mind, they run the danger of losing any confidence they have and will cease being able to make any decision.

What we need in a leader is someone who:

a. Knows when he/she is in over their head and has little to no confidence in making a decision on their own in a particular area.

b. Has such a deep sense of responsibility to a particular mission that he/she assembles the smartest, most experienced and “soundest” people around them.

c. Reaches out to those people at the earliest sign of knowing he/she is in an area of not understanding something critical — and even non-critical — for their counsel and then listens to it.

d. Over time, if that leader is reasonably intelligent and able to learn and increase their competence, they can then increase the area where they can make competent decisions.

One of the best examples of that above leadership is when JFK, lacking confidence in his decision making, went along with advisors and invaded Cuba in what became the Bay of Pigs debacle. To his credit, although his advisors may have been responsible for their ill-conceived advice, JFK took full responsibility for the failure. And when he owned up to on national television, his ratings soared.

Following that it has been said that JFK met with Eisenhower and asked him what went wrong. Eisenhower is said to have told JFK, “You didn’t have a process for making sound decisions in such a crisis.”

Apparently, JFK heeded those words and learned a process for making such life or death decisions which came in handy when he averted the possible destruction of the entire world in his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

If you agree with above analysis, please be mindful of that when you go to the polls in November.

Dr. Goulston is co-founder of Michelangelo Mindset, a speaker, MG100 Coach & the author of "Just Listen,” the top book on listening in the world.