One of the most important leadership characteristics is the willingness to accept correction. Solomon, the great Israelite king, said as much when he wrote: “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). Truer words cannot be spoken. The acquisition of knowledge requires humility, the desire to learn, and the willingness to accept correction from others. Those who resist such correction, including those who never admit they are wrong, are (in the words of Solomon) “stupid.”
History is full of leaders who became casualties to their pride and stubbornness. And if they somehow escaped much of the consequences of their stupidity, their followers and those around them weren’t as fortunate. Few people are more dangerous than a stubborn, proud, narcissistic leader who rarely listens to the counsel of others and seems unwilling (if not incapable) of admitting when he or she has made a mistake.
Most historians agree that the two greatest Presidents in U.S. history were George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Some put Franklin Roosevelt in that camp as well, but it’s hard to top Washington and Lincoln. And one of the greatest attributes each man had was the willingness to seek counsel and accept correction. President Washington surrounded himself with aides who were arguably much smarter than him. His first Cabinet included such intellectual giants as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. A lesser man would have been intimidated by such men and would’ve wanted to avoid anyone else taking attention. Consider the jealousy President Richard Nixon often had with Henry Kissinger. Not so with Washington. Perhaps an even more commendable example is President Lincoln who invited political rivals onto his Cabinet. Lincoln was more than willing to humble himself to accept advice, counsel, and even correction from those whose wisdom he valued.
To be a leader requires that you are constantly learning and growing — even as (one might say “especially as”) you actually occupy a position of leadership. Many years ago, my mother bought my paternal grandfather a mug that read “Don’t bother me with the facts. My mind is already made up.” A funny mug, and my grandfather was actually a very well-read and well-studied individual. But there was some truth to my mom’s jab. Grandot (that’s what I called him) could be quite stubborn at times. And stubbornness is not always a good trait for a leader. Not when it comes to receiving counsel and accepting correction, that is.
It is of course refreshing to see a leader stand on conviction. I’m not suggesting that leaders shouldn’t, when appropriate, draw lines in the sand and refuse to surrender. What I’m saying is that leaders should never stop seeking out and receiving information. And they should always learn from their mistakes. A true leader keeps himself or herself humble. Good leaders know they always have something more to learn.