In the 1999 cult classic film Galaxy Quest, aging has-been actors from a 1970’s sci-fi television show find themselves transported to another galaxy to play out their characters in real life. An alien race received their television signal and under threat of extinction replicated the technology of the TV show for their space exploration. In watching the “historical documents” they venerated the actors as space crusading heroes. To save face with the aliens to whom they have entrusted their very existence, they proceed to fumble their way forward. The actors, caught in the midst of a galactic war now seek to “fake it till they make it” to save the alien race and hopefully return to earth. With their lives in the balance, they have no other option but to lead. They are forced to face their fears and discover how to rise to the occasion in order to attain victory.
At several points in the movie, most of the characters are forced to face their fears and ask the internal questions. They question their abilities, motives, and goals for their careers and lives. What makes the writing powerful in this campy comedy are the subtlely woven philosophical truths conveyed throughout the story. The watcher finds empathy for the characters in the midst of comedic calamity.
It is tempting to look in the mirror and ask questions like; Is this all there is? Why does everyone else seem to have it all together and I don’t? Shouldn’t I have it figured out by now? Is this who I really am, or am I just faking everyone out? How can I lead others when I can’t even manage my own life? We have all likely entertained some version of these questions in our lifetime.
The perception is that leaders are expected to have answers, lead with confidence and instruct others in the way they should go all the time with 100% accuracy. The result for some is the tyrannical fear of having to know everything without appearing to be a know-it-all. “How can I be both strong, assertive and also humble and self-deprecating?” Leaders will often don masks in order to protect themselves and appear better than they are. That decision, however, can lead to leadership suicide. The answer ironically is the opposite of how we tend to act. Confidence comes from humility and success is attainable when we admit we don’t have the answers. Here are a few key reminders for leaders who may be questioning their abilities and qualifications.
- Leading is less about confidence and more about focus.
- Leading is less about knowing and more about gaining the understanding that creates solutions.
- Leading is less about ability and more about inspiration.
- Leading is less about being assertive and more about serving others.
- Leading is less about organization and perfection and more about modeling how to fail well.
- Leading is less about being right and more about fostering discovery.
- Leading is less about control and more about inclusion.
I did not say leaders do not need the elements of confidence, knowledge, ability, assertiveness, organization, or be right often. However, there is a tendency to believe wrongly about those items and miss the heart of exceptional leadership by prioritizing the first items to the neglect of the second.
Requires Focus – Focus is the ability to see the goal and not get deterred by the actions of others or emotion. Stay focused and channel your energy and emotions toward your goals to be successful. Follow the words of the Stoic philosophers;
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” — SENECA
Requires Solutions – Problems abound in life and leadership. We all contribute to and have to face problems in life and business. Having a sound process for problem-solving that is not reactionary is key to leadership success. Gut reactions and going off experience alone under pressure of “having to know” has odds that are likely equal to the roulette tables in Las Vegas. If you are right, the payout is big but the losses are just as grand.
“A leader is the one, who knows the way, goes the way and show the way” — JOHN C.MAXWELL
Requires Inspiration – Leaders arise because they have demonstrated the ability to move people. Physically, emotionally and inspirationally. Over time many leaders can come to depend on their position of power to retain authority. It is the duty and joy of a leader to inspire greatness from the people they lead. This is the pressure release valve for a leader. They can truly focus on the people and not have to depend on power to be successful.
“If your action inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more you are a leader” — JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
Requires Service – Servant leadership is likely the singular greatest requirement for great leadership. It is humility in action. How a leader models service is a key example of their commitment and care for the vision and the people under their influence.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself….Serve and thou shall be served.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Requires Failure – It seems backward from conventional thinking because it is. Many of the worlds greatest events were the result of years of failure and struggle. Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt (the former’s nephew), Thomas Edison, George Patton, and a slew of others can attest to the success of their failures. Failure is the involuntary education that leads the resilient to success.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”— WINSTON CHURCHILL
Requires Discovery – Remain curious and imaginative about your work, those you lead and yourself. The journey of discovery is one to be relished not feared. Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow. The same goes for your business and those you lead. Stay fresh by staying vigilant with a clearly defined process of discovery.
“Make it your regular habit to consider your roles—parent, child, neighbor, citizen, leader—and the natural duties that arise from them. Once you know who you are and to whom you are linked, you will know what to do.” —Epictetus
Requires Inclusion – Leaders who operate alone are not leaders, they are more akin to delusional crusaders. Creating a culture of inclusion and team is more difficult than most people realize. Leadership isn’t in getting people to sign up for the first event. It is how many sign up for the fifth, six and seventh time the event takes place. How leaders include others and invite them into the vision is the sign of true leadership.
“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership” — DWIGHT D. EISENHOUR
So if you wonder if you are leading or how you can lead while remaining flawed, take courage. You have what it takes to fail uphill and succeed. Let your humanity shine and apply these reminders daily. Even though you find yourself in a far away galaxy with unsuspecting people watching your every move, stay focused, operate in humility to inspire, discover and serve as you include your followers in your journey toward towering aspirations that you could not accomplish alone. In all these, you’re not faking it. You are a leader.
These seven leadership principles are just the beginning. They can be the catalyst toward present and future success. If you see patterns that you wish you improve in your leadership or team, our ShiftAgent coaching program or one of our seminars may be right for you. We are here for you, contact us and we will be glad to assist.