Photographs can look a lot better – but sometime just different – because of post-processing. Taking the original shot and creating effects afterwards (like this example I took and then adjusted) doesn’t always improve the photo, but it does provide an interpretive comment on it. Leadership can be a bit like this; undertaken in a fixed moment and able to be improved upon afterwards with hindsight. But often, that little luxury is for the armchair critic alone because, when the moment has passed, you either nailed your shot or you didn’t! There’s not always a chance to remedy your actions.
It is useful remembering that what we say and do can be like hammering a nail. An apology or an amendment can claw it out, but the mark remains. Just as a film photographer really has to think about every shot when he has only twenty-four available on his roll, leaders need to be thoughtful and careful. But the more experimental possibilities of digital multi-shots will tend to resemble the leadership reality that much of our decision-making happens on-the-fly out of necessity.
The best way we can help our leaders is to recognise that very fact while offering encouragement and support. Feedback and questions are often needed, but these are best given from the perspective of sounding like the leader actually knows better, rather than sounding like you do! And even if you actually do know better, that’s usually just an opinion and one that doesn’t always matter to the end result, anyway, if you are not in charge. At least conceding that the leader has to ‘carry the can’, possibly while juggling extra complicating considerations you don’t know about, helps your humility. After all, post-processors can often look like pseudo-leaders whose unhelpful ‘I-told-you-so’ comments sometimes make them look like back-seat drivers who aren’t even in possession of all the facts. This naturally doesn’t change the real leader’s need to be open to criticism, but it’s all about how that is given, not just received.
For those who are leaders, it is reasonable to evaluate, to make changes that can be made, to improve what can be improved, and to apologise for errors. This keeps us humble. But we also need to go a little easy on ourselves – sometimes in the face of criticism – knowing that we simply can’t always get it perfect. Also, when we lead by conviction, there are times we shouldn’t be backing down. Of course, leading with consultation and with better vision casting is important, but there are times when an overall leader must make courageous decisions and when they have to ‘do’ the delivery of what was discussed with others. Even that seldom goes as planned, and rarely can it be photo-shopped afterwards!