Looking back on my more than 30 years of leadership experience, I have come to the conclusion that leadership is broken. Most “best” practices are not, much of what's regarded as “conventional wisdom” might be conventional, but it’s far from wise, and most of what passes for generally accepted leadership principles resemble little more than watered down rhetoric often flawed to the core. This is my inaugural contribution here on Forbes, and the general theme of what I’ll be addressing in this and subsequent pieces is busting leadership myths and business axioms that do more harm than good. First up: the theory of the self-made man.
Do you view yourself as a self-made man or woman? If you do, you may want to take another look in the mirror. What’s wrong with the “self-made” theory? Everything. If your pride, ego, arrogance, insecurity, or ignorance keeps you from recognizing the contributions of others, then it’s time for a wake-up call. If your hubris is overwhelming your humility then the text that follows is written just for you.
Today’s “pop leadership” culture seems to encourage personal glorification above all else. Here’s the thing – real leaders don’t take credit, they give it. While I take complete responsibility for all my failures and shortcomings, I take very little credit for my own success. Virtually all of the good things that have happened to me over the years have been the result of the collaborative efforts of many. I have found most mature people not suffering from delusions of grandeur tend to share this perspective. Leadership isn’t about self-serving behaviors; it’s about service beyond self. It’s not about you, and when it becomes about you, trouble is not too far away.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely reject all the “self-made man” propaganda floating around business circles as patently false. The myth of the self-made person is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t require shattering. Enter the media – journalists and publicists have made legends of out of success stories like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Mark Cuban and a host of other inspirational stories. While I don’t question for a moment the legendary success of the aforementioned, I do question whether said success was solely a matter of “self.” Behind every success are significant investments and contributions by some if not all of the following people: family, friends, associates, protagonists, antagonists, advisors, teachers, authors, mentors, coaches, and the list could go on.
Other than in a Rambo movie, there is no such thing as an army of one. Savvy leaders tend to seek out help wherever they can find it. Without question, the most successful business people on the planet are those that have learned to blow through self-imposed barriers to openly harness the power of broader spheres of influence. As much as some people won’t want to hear this, “help” is not a dirty word. Realizing that you need help is a sign of leadership maturity, and asking for help is a sign of leadership sophistication. If you want to raise your leadership game to a new level, learn to operate beyond the limitations of your own personal bubble and make yourself easy to help.
So my question is this: Are you easy to help? Think about it…do you make it easy for others to want to help you, or is your demeanor such that most people won’t lift a finger to assist you in a time of need? How many times during the course of your career have you witnessed executives and entrepreneurs who desperately need help, but either don’t recognize it, or worse yet, make it virtually impossible for someone to help them? Smart leaders easily engage, effortlessly collaborate, and instinctively look for help from others. If you desire to enlist others in your success, incorporating the following 5 things into your leadership style will help:
In the final analysis it’s really all a matter of perspective - you can either view yourself as part of a hierarchical world sitting at the top of the org chart puffing your chest and propping-up your ego, or you can view yourself as the hub at the center of a large and diverse network. The latter is both more profitable and enjoyable than the former. You can either choose to build your career at the expense of others, or by helping others – choose wisely.
I welcome your thoughts on this topic, or other topics you’d like me to tackle in upcoming columns. The floor is now yours…
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