You’re Not “All That”
I had lunch with an old friend of mine yesterday, an actor who has been successfully working his craft for the past 20 years. He’s done movies, TV, Broadway, lots of regional theatre. When you consider that only about 2% of actors make a living wage, he’s done extraordinarily well for himself. I couldn’t help but see that the industry had taken its toll on this very talented friend of mine. His spirit was different. When we were younger, he was like a wild stallion – stunning and full of himself – I adored him and despised him at the same time. Now…he’s gotten real. A pretty great guy, actually.
As we were talking, he looked up with such raw honesty, and said, “You know, I’m glad I never got so famous that I had my own trailer (on the set). I guess I’ve been successful, but not the we-buy-you-a-trailer kind. I don’t know what I would have become. I hate to think I would be like “that”. He didn’t even need to define what “that” was. We both knew. Everyone knows what it means to be so successful that you become like “that”.
This isn’t an actor phenomenon, this is a human phenomenon. I’ve spoken with Senior VP’s who tell me that their CEOs treat them like the hired help. You’ve met them. The bullies in the boardroom who can’t disagree without ripping away someone’s dignity?
I know self-defined “rock star” company founders who minimize the accomplishments of the very people that make them successful, to maintain their ego on the throne.
Even though it was 15 years ago, I remember with such clarity, being vehemently and quite publicly scolded, when I questioned a decision that was being made on a client project I was leading, “Don’t you ever question me again. You are just a vendor.” That didn’t work for me.
On the flip-side, I watch over-over-over again – bright, gifted people who are capable of so much, minimize themselves. They see themselves as less than they are because of their place in the pecking-order of things.
Today I invite you to consider (and I am as well) that the pecking-order-thing isn’t real. It’s a human-imposed-thing that we use to help us create order and make sense of the world around us. What if…we all have value?
Here’s what I know to be true: When you treat someone like they are not important, like they are “less than” what they are, what they’re capable of being, or becoming, they will prove you right. They will shrink back, or hold back the best of who they are in reaction. Does this make sense from a leadership perspective? Do you want the people you lead to bring less than their best?
My favorite definition of authenticity, in relationship to leadership, comes from Medtronic’s former CEO turned Harvard Business School Professor, Bill George. He defines authentic as “genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, or belief” – in they eye of the beholder. Think of that for a minute. You don’t get to decide if you’re authentic or not – the people that surround you do. Do they find you genuine? Are you who you profess you are (are you really “all that”)? Do they find you worthy of trust? If you see them as having less value than they do, will they trust you? Really? Do they think they can rely on you? Rely on you to have their best interest at heart? Rely on you to do what you say you’re going to do? Rely on you to lead them? Do they believe? In you?
This leadership stuff is not for the faint of heart. It takes something. For to be an authentic leader requires that you’re paying attention to the impact you’re having all around you. You may be good at what you do. You may get the trailer. But that does not make you “better than”. That does not make you a leader. At least not an authentic one.
So no. you’re not “all that”. We all are.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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