Subscribe to Inc. magazine

The True Goal of Leadership

If you think that leadership is about taking action and getting things done, you're wrong.

Many people believe that "leadership" means getting out there and telling people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The true goal of  leadership is to make yourself unnecessary.

I know that sounds completely crazy, but I'm completely serious.

Here's what hugely-successful venture capitalist Mitchell Kerztman told me back when he was the CEO of PowerSoft:

I am the reverse of the Peter Principle. When I started the company, it was a one-man business. There was a time when I did every job in this company. I wrote the programs, I sent out the bills, I did the accounting, I answered the phone, I made the coffee.

As the company has grown, I do fewer and fewer of those jobs. And that's just as well, because I was certainly less competent at them than most of the people who are doing them now.

I'm the reverse of the Peter Principle in the sense that I've finally risen to my level of competence, which is that I don't do anything very well and now what I do extremely well is nothing.

The idea that the true goal of leadership is the ability to do nothing is encapsulated by the Taoist term wu wei which has two meanings: "action without action" and "action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort."

In the classic "The Art of War," the author Sun Tzu expresses wu wei by pointing out that great generals are reserved, calm and detached, rather than hotheads or busybodies.

The same thing is true for all great leaders.

Great leaders recruit people who are so talented that they need no guidance and can handle problems and disagreements on their own, without requiring the great leader to intervene.

To use a somewhat overused (but nevertheless profound) term, great leaders "empower" people to make their own decisions.

If you truly empower people, you are no longer needed as a decision-maker.  You make yourself unnecessary.

When you've successfully accomplished this goal, only then you can expand your influence and take on new responsibilities (and once again strive to become unnecessary).

If you don't make yourself unnecessary, you'll be stuck, as a leader, at the same level, riding herd on the same people.

Like this post? If so, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.

More:
Last updated: Dec 4, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: