Login or signup

Great Leadership Is All About One Thing (Hint: Not You)

You should strive to be your best, of course. There's just so much to learn from other people.


I recently did a highly unscientific trawl across Harvard Business blogs. It felt like visiting a drop-in therapy center. Mindfulness. Meditation. Lead with your heart. Fears that block your creativity. Authenticity.

Holy smoke, I thought: it's all me, me, me. What about everyone else?

Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favor of being the best you can be. I just think there's a lot to be learned from other people, instead of investing all your love and attention on yourself. I have had the great privilege of interviewing a bizarre range of high achievers, from athletes to chefs, from musicians to scientists. I learn so much from asking the questions, and listening to the answers. These people rarely ask me about myself; that's fine because I'm doing my job and they're doing theirs.

Meditation, mindfulness, silence are all important and healthy. But so too is looking outside yourself--at the problems and possibilities that other people, cultures, and approaches have to offer. Leadership is at least as much about noticing other people--their needs, talents, and aspirations--as about interrogating and improving yourself. A healthy, humble curiosity puts you in a stronger position to understand and engage with the world. Personal development is a part of leadership, but it's only one part. If it doesn't connect you with the outside world, well, let's just say there's a ruder word for it.

I can't help but notice that even the articles on narcissistic leadership seem to be about how to minimize your own narcissism--and that the reason you would wish to do this is because otherwise your own career will be jeopardized.

I prefer a more expansive, externally-focused mindset: watch and listen to other people, languages, frameworks, structure, and everyone gets smarter. Leadership is about you--it just isn't all about you.

Last updated: Jan 25, 2013

MARGARET HEFFERNAN is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2011, she published her third book, Willful Blindness.

Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Comment and share features

Or sign up using: