What is Your Fatal Flaw?



Let’s start by attempting to define what a fatal flaw is. “Fatal flaws are weaknesses that are extreme and can have a dramatic, negative effect on a leader, seriously hampering their contribution to the organisation and their career progress. Everyone else can see this clearly; but the person with the fatal flaw almost never does.”

Data shows that someone perceived very poorly on any single, important leadership trait pays a high price. If their score is in the bottom 10 percent on one skill, they will rank in the bottom fifth overall – no matter how strong other strengths are. “Bottomline, leaders don’t need to be extremely good at everything, but they generally cannot be totally void in one area and still succeed.”

Data also says, most of the fatal flaws noticed as “sins of omission” from leaders have been in the areas of a lack of strategic thinking, not taking responsibility for outcomes, not building strong relationships, or “sins of commission”, having a terrible temper, an executive who lies, is arrogant, lacks empathy, etc.

When I read literature to support this article, it got me thinking. You and I know many leaders who have at least 2-3 sins of omission and as well as sins of commission rising to the top of their career. My conclusion is that, it was pure luck or destiny. Each leader I know with these weaknesses, now I’m talking about at the CEO level, had these leadership positions fall on them because of extenuating circumstances in the organisations they led. Had the situation been normal, where there was competition or a vote to attain these positions, many of them would not have achieved this feat in their careers.

Haven cleared that exception, let’s look at normal people like you and I and leaders who have had to go through an evaluation system to achieve the next level of growth in their careers.

Let’s start with me. Like I have mentioned on this page before in my article “It Takes More Than Hard Work. Politics is Key!” I thought it was all about getting the work done, being innovative, pushing myself and my team to excel. At the lower rung of my career, this objective worked very well for me and was appreciated by the organisation I worked in. As I moved up the ladder, I started to suffer from a fatal sin of omission, which was very hard for me to see. The main reason was, though the organisation was a meritocracy, I thought that was all that mattered. Doing a good job!

It was not immediately visible to me that I was suffering from a fatal sin of omission of “not building strong relationships”. It took me a while to realise that there was more at play than just the work, it was more about your alignments, who was with whom, were you perceived as loyal or subordinate enough, etc. Your work still spoke for you, but there was more that was required. Let me also say that merit was still highly prized and rewarded, and was not detrimental to my growth.

I also had a colleague, who did excellent work, but her sin of omission was also a lack of “not building strong relationships”. She was quiet and reserved, but everybody felt the job she was performing required a more extroverted personality. Being her direct supervisor, I disagreed with this assertion, because I found her very effective on her job and knew that everybody could not have the same personality. She could never understand this requirement, and it was detrimental to her growth.

I have had bosses, whose sins of omission, I felt were a lack of strategic thinking. They were also good at getting the work done, but lacked the strategic thinking of ensuring that innovation and “new thinking” for the future was woven into their work. We all also know leaders who lack empathy or jokingly degrade the people they interact with or work with as well as leaders who do not take responsibility for any negative outcome performed by their team members. The greatest sin in my view is the leader that lies. Thank God in my over 20 years as a professional, I came across very few but one in particular with a penchant to lie.

Research has shown that many of us are not aware of our flaws. Jack Zenger, the author of “Most Leaders Know Their Strengths – but Are Oblivious to Their Weaknesses”, said becoming more self-aware is where to start.
He says there are several ways you can learn to identify your weaknesses, and start to figure out whether they are serious or mild.

Start by finding a “truth teller”, who will share honest feedback with you. He says data shows, and from my own personal experience that our colleagues know about or see firsthand failing in us. We just need to find these people and encourage them to give us feedback.

If that doesn’t work, hire an external consultant to give you feedback. I know of a colleague who did this. I know because I was one of those who provided feedback to the outside consultant. I was very proud of her for going the extra mile to be self-aware.

You are not alone if you do not know your fatal flaw. Over two thirds of leaders do not recognize this deficiency because it takes a while for the direct correlation of our flaw to start showing. It is important to start evaluating yourself early in your growth trajectory, to determine where your errors of omission and commission are and start to actively working on correcting them. Good luck!