Staying True to Who You Are, and Learning From the Mistakes Of Others

Bill George

Discovering your True North begins with being honest with yourself. That’s why I so strongly encourage you to review your life story and to reflect on where you excel and where you need to develop.

In addition to introspection, examining where others have faltered may also help your growth. It is possible for leaders to focus so much on the heights they intend to reach that they lose sight of their principles. Often, leaders become overconfident, like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. Here are some archetypes of leaders who fail to remain authentic. Consider as you read: do you see in yourself an inclination toward any of these tendencies?

Those who fall from the sky

Imposters misrepresent themselves to attain power. These people rise through cunning and politics, often without regard for anyone who stands in their way. They pretend to be more capable than they are.

Have you ever hidden vulnerability or avoided your true self in order to advance your career?

Rationalizers trick themselves into believing they are more successful than they really are. Rationalizers blame others for their failures. They often bend the truth, fabricating figures, facts and feelings to make themselves feel better about their performance.

Have you ever told yourself that everything was okay to make yourself feel more secure, despite evidence to the contrary?

Glory seekers want recognition, titles and acknowledgement. They are focused on the extrinsic benefits of power, like wealth and fame.

Have you ever lost sight of your True North because you were focused on receiving recognition for an accomplishment?

Loners shun help and rise to leadership without forming healthy relationships along the way. These leaders believe it is best to brave their journey alone.

Have you ever taken on a task and found yourself thinking that rejecting help and focusing on your own ideas was the most efficient route forward?

Shooting stars quickly dart across the sky toward the next objective – the next promotion, the next goal – and never settle down to appreciate the scenery below.

Have you ever reached a career goal and realized you did not spend enough time with your family, friends or colleagues along the way because you were so focused on your destination?

Perhaps you recognize some of these traits in yourself. They come in the form of unhelpful voices, promising that “success” is the only goal. Silencing these voices will keep you from losing your way, as you grow into an authentic leader. These kinds of leaders (imposters, rationalizers, glory seekers, loners, and shooting stars) fail to inspire, they miss valuable collaboration, and they focus not on the significance of leadership, but the endgame of power.

A common thread among failed leaders

A profile of Victor Lustig, who is infamous for selling the Eiffel Tower to a gullible buyer, describes the con artist as extremely confident. He approached his targets with a long, important-sounding title and professional stationery. Though he had all the outward trappings of a scrupulous, successful person, it was all a façade. The decorum of prestige was a carefully curated aspect of his scam. Ask yourself: is a con artist terribly different from a false leader who chooses the quickest path to success? When times get tough, does an overconfident leader with a grandiose plan unite people under a common banner? Or does hubris predict a dramatic decline?

Lonely at the top

While the con artist works alone for obvious reasons, many failed leaders seek isolation on purpose. The imposter is wary of being found out; the rationalizer, similarly, builds a ruse; the glory seeker wants his or her name alone on the marquee; the loner believes in a solitary path; and the shooting star never cultivates meaningful relationships. Failed leaders often nurture isolation far beyond the reasonable bounds of privacy and confidentiality.

John Cacioppo, Ph.D., points out that it is in our nature to be social, to be a part of a larger cause. He cites research that shows collaboration triggers the “reward” areas of our brain in the same way food satisfies our hunger. Leaders who avoid advice and feedback in their pursuit of success take on unnecessary stress or become depressed as they deprive their bodies of the nourishing connection they need.

The way forward is together

In Discover Your True North, you will learn why some leaders struggle to develop beneficial relationships and how the successful cope with the loneliness that accompanies leadership. You will see why the pursuit of True North is a road best marched with company. For now, we can agree, some leaders who fail suffer a similar fate to Icarus, who wanted nothing more than to fly high enough to touch the sun.

Learn more about this topic in Chapter 2: Losing Your Way

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