One of the most powerful seductions happens all around us – and yet goes unnoticed for what it is – a way to get us to do things that we are not likely to do on our own. In fact, you may have been under its influence and not noticed! If you have looked around and realized you are the one who traveled out on the “ice of the frozen pond” to make sure it would hold the weight of others, when it is you that mentions the unmentionables while others are silent, if you have made a significant concession only to watch others sit on their hands – you know what we mean. It often is presented as “you’re a real leader” or “we need more leaders like you.” The appeal is to your ego. And it works – nearly every time. We all want to be “a leader” to stand out, to advance our cause.
But it is a hollow promise. Real progress comes from partnerships, not heroes. Very little of significance comes from one person, acting alone. We tend to idolize exceptional people, hoping to identify what worked for them (and assuming there are no unsung contributors who didn’t get any credit) will be generalized to our own ambitions and dreams. There is nothing wrong with dreams, or ambition – except when it blinds us to the opportunities and inclusion of others. A sound way to check one’s ambition is to remember one Heifetz/Linsky aphorism – “the people with the problem are the problem …and the solution.” Remembering this will prevent us from doing things to or for people instead of with them.
So the next time someone calls you a “leader” – ask yourself – “what are they trying to get me to do I wouldn’t likely do on my own” and “who might I take along with me?” Good luck!