Greenleaf writes: Acceptance requires a tolerance of imperfection. …Many otherwise able people are disqualified to lead because they cannot work with and through the half-people… The secret of institution building is to be able to weld a team of such people by lifting them up to grow taller than they would otherwise be.
Men grow taller when they are accepted for what they are and are led by the ablest and strongest and ethically soundest people. (Ethical in the sense of being sensitive to what helps people grow taller and more autonomous and disposed to act on that knowledge.) Leaders who fully accept those who go with them are more likely to be trusted.
Tolerance = the act or capacity to endure. I have many conversations these past fifty-plus years with leaders and emerging leaders who found Greenleaf’s statement about ‘Acceptance requires a tolerance of imperfection’ to be a difficult one to embrace. “Why would I want to tolerate imperfection?” A common question among leaders. One can rage all one wants against ‘imperfection’ and it won’t change reality: Each person is, by his or her nature as a human being, imperfect. We humans are more likely to ‘stumble the mumble’ rather than ‘walk the talk.’
By the by, Gentle Reader, followers are all too frequently trapped by their need for the leader to ‘walk the talk’ and they, like the leader, find it difficult to accept that the leader is an imperfect human being and is more likely to ‘stumble the mumble.’ Peter Drucker provided the leader an out: ‘Help develop people’s strengths so their weaknesses become irrelevant.’ By the by, ‘their’ refers to the Leader and the Follower. Appreciative Inquiry is rooted in this idea.
These two ideas help the leader to ‘lift up’ those who follow so they ‘grow taller’ than they otherwise would grow. The leader’s deep assumptions about people will powerfully impact both their tolerance of imperfection and their ability to help people ‘grow taller.’ Thus it is crucial that a leader emerge his or her deep assumptions about people and decide whether these deep assumptions serve them and those who follow.
Greenleaf notes that the leader must always be accepting of the person while at the same time helping the person to develop his or her skills, abilities, talents and capacities more fully. Always accept the person while judging the person’s behavior or work or follow-through. Leaders who are not able to accept their own ‘imperfections’ will find it difficult, at best, to be tolerant of others’ imperfections. Their own negative self-judgment blocks them (how can one possibly accept the other if one does not accept one’s self).
The leader is obligated to discern what will help the follower ‘grow taller’ and then is obligated to help the follower grow. Not all leaders have this ability for discernment AND this type of discernment is necessary if one is going to help others ‘grow taller.’ If I, as a leader, am not able to discern and/or I am not able to help the other ‘grow taller’ then what? This is another challenge for the leader.
I know of no one right answer to this question; I have known leaders who were aware of their own limitations when it came to both ‘discernment’ and to ‘helping others grow taller’ and a number of them found a way (through another person, mostly). In order to do this the leader had to accept and tolerate his or her own imperfection and limitation(s). No small task.