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You Have to Do Something AND Be Someone

May 3, 2012

 “It used to be that you wanted to do something. Now you want to be someone.”- The Iron Lady

The Margaret Thatcher character in the movie is trying to point out that people used to be driven by conviction and now they are driven by a desire for fame. Certainly, our reality TV culture supports that notion. However, I’d like to broaden the definition of ‘Being someone” because it’s not helpful to frame today’s leaders in such an either-or paradigm. We can’t really say the former is “better” than the latter. The answer for today’s leaders is BOTH. That’s integrative thinking.

Even today, most people are drawn to public or corporate leadership because they want to do something in their community or their organization. Perhaps once they are there they become the “icon”, the “business person of the year” etc. That’s the “Great Man” approach to leadership that is perpetuated in the press but discarded by leadership scholars as not being particularly effective. It stands to reason that you have to do something to be someone.

Our assumptions of the traits of leaders colours how we see the “be someone” piece. Initially I was thinking, as you might be, that the be is about importance, status, fame… It is about what you achieve when you are a leader. However, today’s leaders need to be someone who empowers others, who is caring, who listens deeply. Above all, this “Level 5 Leader“, as described by Jim Collins, must be humble. (Perhaps, Lady Thatcher would have prevented the overthrow of her leadership if she had followed more of these practices.) Nonetheless, we must also acknowledge that when you “are someone” you have more power to accomplish your objectives because of your reputation, your resources, your team etc. and because people want to be associated with you.

This flips the assumption upside down: Sometimes, you need to be in order to do.

Just try to remember that fame can be fleeting so “be” in such a way that others still want to be with you when, once again, you are a regular person buying milk at the grocery store. To quote Einstein “Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.”

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