The Leadership Shop

A Leadership Tidbit

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your inspiration with others.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s advice sounds like wise council but isn’t. He would have benefited from Thomas Jefferson’s observation, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Sir Walter Scott’s caution would have also been helpful, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” The suggestion, either explicit or implied, that intentional dishonesty is appropriate or correct is silly and – well – dishonest.

“Inspiration” is the product of one’s creative thinking and work, a sudden intuition about a situation or problem. It pops into reality partially or fully formed, without supporting analysis or carefully considered explanation. Assuming that the “fears” Stevenson suggested that you keep to yourself are associated with the inspiration you share with others, the problem is this. The inspiration is the “I think” part of the sudden intuition. The fears you aren’t sharing are the “I feel” part. Stevenson suggests that you share the “I think” part but not the “I feel” part. That seems to promote a “half truth” as the way to go.

Suppose instead that Stevenson didn’t intend that the “fears” and “inspiration” were associated. Your fears relate to X and your inspiration relates to Y, with X and Y being unrelated. You should share your inspiration about Y but not your fears about X. The advice would still be debatable but trivial. He is merely counseling people to share their inspirations with others but keep their unrelated fears to themselves. That would make concurrently sharing, “I have discovered a cure for cancer but am deathly afraid of snakes,” inappropriate. Is that profound advice or did you, perhaps, already know that?

No, Stevenson advised that you share your inspirations but not your related fears. That makes his advice unacceptable. People need and are entitled to the full truth, not half truth. It also makes what you share more credible. This is especially true for leaders. People want to know what you think, want you to share your vision, your inspiration. They also need to know what you fear, what the risk is for you and for them. Go with the whole truth, inspiration, fears, and all.

The Gurus Say

ooper, Robert K. The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.

Although studies indicate that people who regularly think ahead tend to experience more frequent leadership opportunities and career advancement, this mechanism is about something deeper than the external trappings of success. It keeps overriding the don’t-grow-or-change instincts of the amygdala and clarifies what makes you original and sets you apart from the crowd.

It’s no wonder that when people don’t feel cared about and uniquely valued, they do not put their hearts into their life or work. After an extensive three-year study of the critical variables for leadership success, the Center for Creative Leadership recently concluded that the only statistically significant factor differentiating the very best leaders from the mediocre ones is caring about people.

Here’s what we know: zero-sum competition–that is, competition in which one person must lose in order for another to win–tends to undermine the best in most of us. It makes us wary and distrustful of others, causes us to withhold and distort information, inspires us to negatively caricature others, makes us intolerant of uncertainty and change, and it so narrows our focus that constructive creativity is practically shut down.

Recent studies indicate that up to half of all work time may be wasted or compromised due to mistrust. In large part, this mistrust is prompted or worsened by competition. Remember, whatever our conscious good intentions, our ancient brain instincts have been programmed to assume the worst. “It’s a war out there,” the subconscious asserts. “Defend yourself. Smile, play along, cover your back, withhold information, put a good face on things but gossip about others.”

Even in groups with an overarching shared mission or purpose, it is unusual when more than one or two of the five values are shared by the group or team as a whole. Nonetheless it is our individual values that bring each of us to life inside as a unique person; they cannot be implanted from outside.

Trust is an emotional strength that begins with a feeling of self-worth and purpose that we’re called to extend outward to others. The warm, solid gut feeling you get from trust–from counting on yourself and trusting and being trusted by others–is one of the great enablers of life.

We trust others when two crucial qualities are present in the relationship. First, we must feel that they understand us: that they know who we really are and what really matters to us. Second, we must feel that they care about us, and that they will weigh our true needs, interests, and concerns when they make decisions.

Of course, you have to be blas about some things. Otherwise, you might die of overexcitement. Yet your individual passion about a direction or a dream can see you far.

This is the Brother’s Keeper Principle, which dictates that once I have come to know you well, I must say and do what I believe is in your best interest and in line with your commitments, regardless of how that makes you feel about me. In other words, in many situations life is more about trying to make a constructive difference than trying to be liked.

Above all, and beneath all, accountability is generated from within your heart; it cannot be “given” from outside. It is conscience–and more. It prompts you to forgo excuse-making and instead to sense emerging problems and opportunities early on and accept a role in responding to them in new ways with commitment and ingenuity.

What do your loved ones miss the most about you in recent years? What part of you isn’t coming home at the end of the day? It’s likely to be something small but significant, such as the sense of humor or playfulness you used to have before you got so busy.

A Success Tidbit

Fail To Succeed

Character cannot be developed in peace and
quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be
strengthened; vision cleared; ambition inspired, and success achieved. —
Helen Keller

The relationship between trial and suffering is a common theme
in the success and motivation literature, although failure usually replaces
trial and suffering in the equation. For example, Benjamin Disraeli said,
All my successes have been built on my failures. The famous Anon. said,
Failure is a better teacher than success, but she seldom finds an apple on her
desk; and Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, said, Most success springs from an
obstacle or failure. Maury Povich joined in too when he said, There’s got to
be a glitch along the way, or else you lose touch with reality. Robert Louis
Stevenson took the concept to the extreme, Our business in life is not to
succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits; and Winston Churchill echoed
the theme, Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of

Now isn’t that just dandy. It’s enough to make one get out there
and fail just to get firmly on the path to success; and the bigger the failure,
the better. Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success,
according to Napoleon Hill. Perhaps a good measure of trial and suffering would
also be a terrific addition to one’s optimal success strategy.

Interestingly, simply failing is, by itself, not sufficient. One
must develop the right attitude toward failure. Reggie Jackson suggested, I
feel the most important requirement in success is learning to overcome failure.
You must learn to tolerate it, but never accept it. Dexter Yager said, A
winner is one who accepts his failures and mistakes, picks up the pieces, and
continues striving to reach his goals. It’s a get back on the horse kind of
thing. Denis Waitley puts it this way, Forget about the consequences of
failure. Failure is only a temporary change in direction to set you straight
for your next success.

At least Norman Vincent Peale didn’t
buy into the negative approach to success, We’ve all heard that we have to
learn from our mistakes, but I think it is more important to learn from our
successes. If you learn only from your mistakes, you are inclined to learn only
errors. The conclusion here is simple. Fail if you absolutely can’t avoid it.
If you fail, don’t quit. You can’t succeed if you don’t try. Having said that,
success is always more fun than failing and there is never any shame in having
fun. The key is to do the right things right, the first time, on time, every
time. With that as your personal standard, you won’t always have fun but the
odds will definitely favor your proactive approach to success.