The life-changing power of small things: Leadership

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The life-changing power of small things

On May 21, James Citrin, the author of The Career Playbook who is also the leader and CEO Practice at Spencer Stuart delivered the Wesleyan University Phi Beta Kappa Commencement Address. This post has been adapted and condensed from that speech by the man himself and reproduced here without any alterations whatsoever.

Leadership

Leadership is so widely discussed and written about that it’s easy to forget why it’s important in the first place. Psychologists are convinced that over the long-term, people act only in their self-interest. But leadership and success, it turns out, go hand in hand — if you apply the power of small things. And one of those small things is a fail-safe notion — that if you want to be successful in life, worry less about your own success, especially in the short-term.

Dedicate yourself, instead, to making those around you successful. I’ve worked with some of the most extraordinary leaders in the world – Bono, Sheryl Sandberg, Howard Schultz, Colin Powell, John Chambers – and I’ve have done extensive research on professional success. The vast majority of the most successful leaders are described by those who work with and for them, as caring as much about the success of others as their own success.” By contrast, only a small percentage of the most successful are described as putting their own success ahead of that of their peers and subordinates.

A timeless question about leadership is whether leaders are born or bred. My belief is that leadership can, in fact, be learned. Click To Tweet

Think about the power of this small, but fundamental concept. By focusing on the success of those around you, you attract the best people to work with you. And people become invested in your success. This helps you land the most important assignments and mentors and helps you achieve the best results on those assignments, through the strength of collaboration and mutual support.

There is a deep-seated principle that governs much of human interaction – the principle of reciprocity. All the energy and commitment that you dedicate to the success of others, therefore, comes back to you like those others, in turn, become committed to your success.

Simply put, the best leaders don’t climb their way to the top over the backs of others, they are carried to the top. While this may not seem to be the quickest path to success, it is a guaranteed success strategy. And it works exponentially. As you develop this habit, your reputation will soar over time, which will lead in turn to the best internal and external opportunities flowing your way.

A timeless question about leadership is whether leaders are born or bred. My belief is that leadership can, in fact, be learned. Of course, certain people are born with the natural charisma gene, the magnetism that attracts people from the earliest days on the playground and often runs all the way to the elected office or the boardroom.

But some of the most charismatic, attractive people go awry and self-destruct, while many of the quieter individuals end up having the greatest impact on others through their leadership. That is because there are as many different styles of leadership as there are people. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, is naturally introverted but he ranks at the top of the most admired leader’s lists around the world.

By focusing on the success of those around you, you attract the best people to work with you. Click To Tweet

What are the key elements of Zuckerberg’s leadership? He had a superior vision of what a social network could be, he built an exceptional management team, he motivated them and the organization with a higher purpose – to build a more open, connected and better world, he and the team innovated and adapted to the dramatic changes in technology, consumer tastes, and the competitive environment. He created a winning business model and a culture of excellence, transparency, dedication, and relentless questioning. That’s leadership.

Let me close with one final bit.

 

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