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Why more leaders should be ready to admit when they are clueless

Joram Mwinamo


It all started when I read the book the Trillion dollar coach about Silicon valleys Bill Campbell in 2019 and I learnt that most of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and executives had coaches many years after their companies became wildly successful. It hit me that their success had a lot to do with seeking help. I had always thought, albeit wrongly, that their success was a factor of their inherent genius. I realized that part of the genius is seeking help.

I have progressively learnt since then to proactively seek for help for almost any situation that I encounter and think that I lack the right knowledge or perspective to resolve.

When I was younger I prided myself in knowing and being known as the guy who knows everything . Nowadays, I don’t mind not knowing and I’m ok admitting that I don’t know. And I find it very liberating. I embrace failure and mistakes as an entrepreneur because I know they are they are the tickets to valuable lessons that lead to success. What I try not to do is repeat the same mistakes I made earlier. I proactively seek out experts because I know they have spent time, lots of time, years in fact, gaining experience and perfecting that which I need to learn from them. External expert views help me to get to the bottom of issues and give clarity on what’s to be done a lot faster than if I tried to figure it out all by myself. I’ve also become a ruthless implementer without wasting time or second guessing myself when it becomes even vaguely clear what direction I need to take. There’s more to learn while implementing than when I spend time overthinking and perfecting something without executing it on the ground. This means that I implement a lot of half baked ideas that are still cooking and I improve as I go along. This can unsettle those who are used to having all ducks in a row and expecting perfection.

In a world that frowns upon failures and mistakes , it feels like a sin admitting the above publicly. But maybe the world needs to change how it views progress and leadership. Of course there are roles where mistakes are not tolerated or even encouraged. Mission critical professions. Which is why it takes a long time to be certified in those professions and there are very stringent regulations to protect lives. No one wants a COVID 19 vaccine that is half baked or a pilot to try out new maneuvers that they have never tried before up in the air with passengers on board . But to make progress in many other fields, to develop new products and services, new business models or disruptions, or ideas to grand challenges that have plagued us for years, a totally different mindset is required.

All the success I’ve had to date is based on what I knew and learnt from others. The success I will have tomorrow is seated with others , in their minds and their networks. I have a Board, accountability friends and couples, advisors, coaches , leadership trainers amongst others. Diverse perspectives open up new avenues for solutions in a world that is happier with the status quo yet facing bigger and bigger challenges politically, ecologically, technologically and economically. Maybe what’s needed in this complex world is more humility across the board and less chest thumping.

I see a lot of friends and people struggle because they fear or cannot work with complementary partners or advisers and prefer the comfort of their own ignorance. They would rather suffer than seek help, share their problems or submit to the genius and experience of others. A culture of bravado, egoism and heroism has killed and destroyed many people in situations that had simple answers if only one sought out the right experts, advisors or mentors.

Part of the reason why its difficult to seek help is because the very traits that made us entrepreneurs or leaders in the first place, thinking independently, outside the box and challenging the status quo, are the same traits that become liabilities when we are alone in our businesses or at the top and we can fall prey to thinking that we are brilliant and need no help. Or that admitting weakness and lack of knowledge makes us lose credibility. Admittedly, my own success has been accelerated by my ability to seek help as soon as I sense that I need it or as soon as someone points it out. My reading list this year has been about entrepreneurs from all over the world from China to Nigeria and I’m learning a lot of lessons from their stories. Especially their mistakes. I’ve come to hate biographies that only seek to focus on glowing tributes or stories of entrepreneurs that play up their genius and not the battle scars garnered in the path to their success. I want to know the war stories and mistakes. That’s what adds value to me. No one learns much from the inherent genius of another entrepreneur unless they have unlimited access to them.

So in 2021 resolve to stop suffering. Be quick to seek help whether in business, career, marriage ,your mental health, parenting ,name it. The price you pay for getting help is much less than the damage that the situation causes to your quality of life when your issues go unaddressed. Happy 2021!

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