A Leader’s Legacy

March 29, 2016

To celebrate the launch of our new book, The Go-Giver Leader, I thought I’d post this unpublished passage from Rachel’s diary—Rachel being the character in The Go-Giver who ends up going into business with Joe to create Rachel’s Famous Coffee. Like Pindar, Rachel doesn’t appear in the new book in person — but they’re both talked about and quoted by a certain friend of theirs. — JDM

Pindar asked if there were any questions, and the young man in the row behind me raised his hand. I turned to look at him, and saw an expression of eagerness, self-consciousness, determination, and fluster, all in roughly equal measure. A mix Pindar had seen many times before, no doubt.

The auditorium waited as a runner trotted over with a handheld microphone, so all could hear the young man’s question.

“I was wondering,” he said, once the microphone arrived. “Do you have any advice for aspiring leaders?”

“Yes,” Pindar replied immediately. “Three things. First, trust yourself.

“The interesting thing about great leaders — at least, the most interesting thing to me about them — is that so many of them did not start out thinking of themselves as leaders at all. They started out passionate about an idea.”

He paused for a moment, as if he were thinking of what to say next. My guess, though? That he was pausing so everyone in the audience could fill in their own examples of great leaders who started out passionate about an idea. Lincoln, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Churchill, Lombardi, Watson, Wooden. Their own high school coach, or pastor, or parents, or second grade teacher.

“And then,” he continued, “somewhere along the line, these great leaders did two things.

“First, they stayed passionate about that idea.

“And second, they trusted how they felt about it.

“That seems so simple, doesn’t it? It is simple. But being simple doesn’t make it easy. Some of the hardest things in the world to do are the simplest. Staying passionate about an idea, no matter what friction the path throws at you, and trusting your gut about it: that, my friend, is a very great accomplishment.

“To lead, you have to be able to elicit trust in other people. And others will trust you only if you deeply trust yourself.”

He glanced around the room, as if to suggest that this next comment was directed at each person there.

“In fact, trusting yourself is where leadership starts. By definition, leadership means going first, being out in front, taking an original stand, doing something nobody else has done. Think of it as the Star Trek principle of leadership: boldly going where no one has gone before.”

A murmur of laughter rippled through the room.

“To do that, you need to have a degree of unshakable faith in your own vision.

“Then. The second point is…” — He glanced briefly around the room, passing his gaze across the crowd so that it felt as if he had met the eyes of every person there — “… don’t trust yourself.”

The wave of laughter came rolling back through the room, stronger this time. Pindar smiled.

“I joke. But then, not entirely.

“The second point is, stay open. By which I mean, stay open to viewpoints other than your own, even those — especially those — that are different than yours, even diametrically opposite to yours. Because none of us, as the saying goes, is as smart as all of us. Or to put it a different way: nobody knows where you’re going better than you do … except for the entire universe around you.

“Trusting your own vision is critical, but it’s only half the equation, and it can be a dangerously unbalanced half at that. Self-confidence unchecked morphs eventually into tunnel vision.

“Great leadership is a balancing act.

“To trust yourself enough not to let others derail your vision, yet at the same time stay open to others’ views and ideas and critiques so that your vision doesn’t become myopic. Or to say it from the other side: Staying open, flexible, and receptive to the input of others, yet not so pliable that your own vision becomes diluted by the mediocrity of majority. Consensus is golden — but never confuse consensus with vision.

“Martin Luther once described humanity as like a drunkard on a horse: just when you get it propped up straight on one side, it tumbles off on the other.”

The people sitting around me chuckled quietly at the image. I did, too.

“To ride the horse of great leadership takes balance. Boldness, and circumspection. Self-confidence, and receptivity. Self-trust, with openness to counsel. Initiative, collaboration.

“Balance.”

He paused once again, and in that brief silence I could practically feel everyone in the room leaning slightly forward so as to catch every word of what came next, perhaps sensing that this last point might be the most important of the three.

“Third,” he said. “Replace yourself.

“The great temptation, in any position of leadership, is the impulse to consolidate your power, whether that power is political, financial, social, societal, intellectual, artistic, or even physical. This is why republics turn into empires, why innovative businesses stagnate, fresh artistic movement can grow to become stale copies of themselves, why presidents stop listening, premiers grow paranoid, and kings become ruthless.

“But that drive to consolidate stems from this misunderstanding: that the more you hang onto leadership, the more you have it.

“In reality, it is the opposite. The surest path to increasing the reach and impact of your leadership is to give it away — with care, with discernment, with intention, and with abandon. To give it away. Because the more you give, the more you have.”

That sentence stopped my mind in its tracks. The more you give, the more you have. I quickly slipped out a tiny notebook I’d brought along and jotted down those eight words. They were the only thing I wrote down that whole afternoon — except for the two words I then added, just above them: Pindar’s Paradox.

“The ultimate goal of leadership,” my boss was saying, “is not to consolidate, but to generate. Don’t focus on growing more followers, focus on growing more leaders. Don’t focus on how to extend your accomplishments; focus on how to help groom and grow others who will surpass your accomplishments.

“Leaders typically see their legacy as defined by what they were able to achieve during their term of leadership. There is a far greater way to see it, though. Your greater legacy is defined not by what you achieve, but by what gets achieved those you were able to help grow.

“Helping others go beyond your achievements: that becomes your greatest achievement.”

He turned back to the young man and looked him in the eye. He did not smile.

“Does that make sense?”

Staring up at Pindar on the stage, the young man swallowed audibly, then replied in a voice hoarse with emotion. “Yes, sir. Yes it does. Thank you.”

Then Pindar smiled. It might have been the broadest smile I’d ever seen him give. “You’re welcome,” he said. “And thank you sir.”

I heard a quick intake of breath, and from the corner of my eye, I saw the young man’s posture change. He was sitting straighter in his chair, and seemed a good deal taller than I’d remembered him when we first sat down.

— from Rachel’s diary

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