Bigger Than You

Bertoldo de Giovanni is a name even the most enthusiastic lover of art is unlikely to recognize. He was the pupil of Donatello, the greatest sculptor of his time, and he was the teacher of Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time.

Michelangelo was only 14 years old when he came to Bertoldo, but it was already obvious that he was enormously gifted. Bertoldo was wise enough to realize that gifted people are often tempted to coast rather than to grow, and therefore he kept trying to pressure his young prodigy to work seriously at his art. One day he came into the studio to find Michelangelo toying with a piece of sculpture far beneath his abilities. Bertoldo grabbed a hammer, stomped across the room, and smashed the work into tiny pieces, shouting this unforgettable message, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!”

Wouldn’t you wish you have a mentor who is as great as Giovanni. Secure and confident, he nourishes the talent of his protégé and delight in the fact that one day his pupil might even outshine the teacher.

Here we see the secure leader.

Only secure leaders empower others.

Only secure people can mentor others and produce great products out of them.

Unfortunately, I see more insecure leaders who are so afraid to be out performed by their juniors. These people carry the potential to bring down and bury entire organizations and institutions down whether we talk about business organizations or churches, the same principle applies.

I must have trained thousands of executives representing different companies both here and abroad on the subject matter of leadership. And when the topic on succession and empowerment comes up, I enjoy using a Russian Doll as my prop in emphasizing a point. This is why I was delighted to discover that David Ogilvy, founder of giant advertising agency, Ogilvy and Mather has been doing the same thing a long time ago.

Ogilvy used to give each new manager a Russian doll, which contained five progressively smaller dolls inside. A message inside the smallest one read: “If each of us hires people we consider smaller than ourselves, we shall become a company of dwarves. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we will become a company of giants.”

How would you know whether an organization is thriving and how would you know whether it is destined for demise? Pretty easy actually. Just look around and find out if the company or institution has a deep bench.

Look at the existing leadership. Is he a control freak? Does he rule and govern with an iron hand? Does he use fear and intimidation to control his people? If your answer to these questions is a resounding yes, then you can be sure that there is very little future for that enterprise to last.

Secure leaders are talent scouts too. They are always on the lookout for people better then themselves. This is where the Leadership Law of the Lid operates. No organization, institution, department, enterprise or even families can ever grow beyond the lid of its leader’s competence. This is why the only way to grow the business is to grow the leader’s competence and to reproduce themselves through other people in their organization.

Do not be insecure. Celebrate other people’s success. Be generous and share your skills, knowledge and experiences with other people by mentoring them. Always remember the Russian Doll phenomenon. Grow through your people.

Why is leadership important?

Because your people will forget what you have accomplished for yourself but your people will never forget what you have done for them.

3 thoughts on “Bigger Than You

  1. john

    very nice inspiring story. keep on inspiring other people. it feels like my mind has been opened.

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