Great Leaders are Intentionally Unimpressive

December 28, 2015 — 3 Comments

A legendary Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a noble man and gifted in the ways of the Force. He trained Anakin Skywalker, served as a general in the Republic Army during the Clone Wars, and guided Luke Skywalker as a mentor.

Here’s an important paradigm to start the new year: Great leaders are intentionally unimpressive.

In much of my military officer experience, leadership was a competitive sport. Officers had to compete against each other for promotion, assignments and other opportunities. As a result, officers spent considerable amount of effort trying to be more impressive than their peers. The temptation was to over-inflate our competencies while hiding our weaknesses.

But here’s the irony. No one respected their bosses for being good at that game. In fact, we often resented them for their inauthenticity. That was the way the game was played. That was how one climbed the ladder of SUCCESS.

This is an important area where the path to SUCCESS and the path to GREATNESS part ways dramatically. Striving for success means demonstrating that we’re “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” The organization would most certainly fail without us.

But great leaders are coaches, seizing opportunities to multiply their character and competencies in others. They seek to make others better, not to be seen as better than others. Consequently, they make every organization, every family and every community they touch better.

When giving a presentation, for example, a SUCCESSFUL leader leaves the audience saying, “Wow! He’s so good at that. I could never be that good. What would we do without him?”

But a GREAT leader leaves the audience saying, “Oh, that looks easy. I think I could do that.” Then the great leader says, “Yes, you can. Let me show you.”

Now let me ask you: Which of those two leaders do you think really has more value?

Here’s the hard truth: If your people are so impressed by you and your talents that they think they can’t make it without you, you might be exactly what your company says they need, and you might be considered a huge success. But as a leader of your people, you have failed.

And here’s an even harder truth: If you’re known for your supposedly indispensable talent, you’re actually on your way to being forgotten. Because in today’s economy, extremely talented people are a dime a dozen. And you can always be replaced with someone a little more talented than you. And if talent is your organization’s currency, that’s probably what will eventually happen.

This is one area where it’s hard for success and greatness to co-exist, because being impressive and being imitate-able are so diametrically opposed. So we’re faced with a choice. Do we continue to strive to be the most impressive person in the room, playing the role of talent rather than leadership? Or do we lead in such a way that our people can learn from us and grow alongside us, becoming greater leaders themselves?

Discussion questions:

  1. In what ways do your impressive performances make your skills seemingly out of reach of others?
  1. Do you do things in such a way as to show others how to do them, or do you keep your skills as trade secrets?
  1. How can you simplify your practices so that others feel more comfortable imitating them?

 

3 responses to Great Leaders are Intentionally Unimpressive

  1. 

    Wow Jay. Being great where greatness counts! I’m listening. Thank you. 😊

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  2. 

    Thanks Jay…. It’s the old Churchill versus Hitler argument… I think it was Andrew Roberts who said that those who met Hitler felt that he could do anything.. When you met Churchill you felt that you could do anything…

  3. 

    It’s sad this article can be written about our military.

    In industry people who are incompetent are not (generally) promoted. It’s sad this logic exists in the military and is one of the reasons I left. It has little to do with actual job performance in the military and more about what boxes you check.

    I think the article has a point that you should teach others but not at your own expense–like I’ve said before, I will always help but will not help to the point of making some one competitive over me.

    Consider this as well. What if your job isn’t to be a leader? What if you are to produce widgets?

    Conversley, people are hired for their smarts and retained for ability to produce, not be a leader all the time. Again, the military drives home that you are to lead all the time, I’d argue it is better to be strategically opportunistic about being a leader–sometimes it isn’t worth it.

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