When I was in graduate school I talked to one of my professors about dropping his class because I was unprepared to take the final exam. He talked me out of it, encouraging me to take an incomplete, write a good final paper, and give it my best shot on the test. Somewhere in there he asked if I would be okay with a ‘B’.
Most students would prefer to earn an ‘A’ in class. Most of us who aspire to leadership would prefer to earn an ‘A’ in our leadership work. We want to do our very best for our organization and our followers. We want to do our best to achieve the purpose of the organization. We want to be ethical in our actions and lead effectively in every situation.
And yet, sometimes circumstances conspire against us. The semester I requested to drop my class had been a very challenging one at work and I got married during that term. In the midst of everything else toward the end of the semester, studying for my exam fell by the wayside. In the same way in our leadership life, no matter how effective our followers, how good our plans or how hard we try, sometimes it doesn’t come out the way we would prefer.
What’s a leader to do? First, like my professor reminded me, sometimes it needs to be okay to make a ‘B’. Sometimes, we have to be okay with the best we can do even if it’s not really the result we want. The question then becomes what do we do with that reality. What can we do? There is no single answer to those questions since unique circumstances will determine the options, but there are a couple of things that I think apply in most circumstances. First, there is always something to be learned. What is the best lesson in your situation? Second, a ‘B’ is not the end of the world. What is the best way to turn this into an opportunity for improvements? Third, and probably most important, we can’t all get it right every time so, don’t beat yourself up over it.
As I wrote in the essay for April 4th,"Stepped on Anyone's Toes Lately?" sometimes the list of expectations we have for leaders can be a bit much. The expectations leaders have for themselves may be even more overwhelming. As it turned out, I did make a ‘B’ on the exam, but I also wrote a good final paper and made an ‘A’ in the course, so I’m very glad I didn’t drop the class. I'm very glad I didn’t quit. Not a bad lesson to learn in graduate school or anywhere else.