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Leadership Thought #451 – Beware Of Being Put On A Pedestal

September 28, 2013

Free Man in Black Jacket Standing on Brown Rock Formation Stock Photo

When you have some level of success there is real danger of being put on a pedestal.

There are right ways and wrong ways to acknowledge success.  It is one thing to appreciate and respect individual accomplishment.  It is another to think that similar success could be achieved in whatever else that person attempted.  In fact, it can be dangerous, as we heed advice or jump to conclusions about different situations based on who we choose as role models.  For example, Bruce Springsteen is a very talented songwriter and musician, but there is a difference between his songwriting and his own reality.  He is not a deity, he is a man. Thinking he has life all figured out isn’t fair to him, or you.

I see the same thing in business circles.  Leaders who have achieved some degree of success are held up as paragons of business acumen and virtue.  It takes an evolved person not to fall victim to this trap and believe his or her own press.  Sadly, if you read the business media, you will notice that many of them are quick to embrace their own esteemed status and offer opinions on many things they nothing about.  The truth is that what works for one person may not work for someone else.  In addition, taking intellectual shortcuts or jumping to fast conclusions based on what you believe to be true is a slippery slope.  The scientific method is still a good guideline on testing your own hypothesis.  An opinion is merely a point of view unless it is substantiated with facts.  Moreover, most circumstances are usually unique and situational.

Ideologues have always concerned me because they believe too much in what they say, rarely listen to other perspectives, and demonize or denigrate their opposition.  They spend most of their time proselytizing or defending what they think, rather than challenging and growing their understanding of what they believe they already know.  They are almost obsessed with creating converts to their viewpoint. They talk at people instead of engaging them in two-way conversations. Their opinion is always what matters most.  Those who don’t drink the Kool-Aid are deemed ignorant, misinformed, seen to have character flaws, or simply treated as obstacles to progress. We have plenty of this on both the right and left in Washington, DC now.  If nothing changes, there is a crisis of leadership coming that will be hard to overcome.  Nature has a way of dealing with broken ecosystems.

All the above being said, I certainly believe there is a lot we can learn from others who have reached the pinnacle of their respective profession.   Just make sure you are careful about whom you study and what you can truly learn from them.  Diversity of input is much more important than embracing like-minded views or validating what you believe you already know.  We can often learn as much about what not to do from others as we can learn about what we should emulate. No one has it all figured out and anyone who thinks they do is foolhardy.  The future will always be much different from the past or present.  The more I age, the more I appreciate what I don’t know.  It is the gray areas of life which end being the most difficult to navigate. Sometimes there are no easy answers.

If you are one those people who is already on a pedestal I encourage you to be careful about what you espouse and how seriously you take your own opinions.  Confidence can quickly become arrogance.  Just study the history books and you will find countless examples of leaders who end up faltering under the weight of their own pride and ego.  Life has a way of humbling us all.

I often tell my clients that when you think you have it all figured out, it is time for you to sell your business or let someone else take overLeadership is about asking the right questions and searching for the right answers not simply applying what you think you already know.  Avoid becoming expert on what others should be doing and focus more on becoming the best you that you can be.  We are all a work in progress.  There is no leadership philosophy or set of techniques that is applicable in all situations.

Pedestals are for flowers and artwork not people