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Leading Leaders – How To Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants?

Written by: Marcos R. Dreher, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


An existential question that follows all of us during our careers is not about how much money we make or the titles we collect. When you juxtapose your career achievements versus the achievements of the people you led during your career, you will place into perspective the true measure of your business life.

Happy businesswoman and team looking at camera.

Looking back on my 25+ years of experience, I have had fantastic leaders. Leaders that made me what I am. I have been forged in ice and fire by some of the most successful CEOs and leaders I had the grace to work with. Yet, let us not fool ourselves, I also have had extremely poor ones, leaders that were the sole decision for why I left the organization I belonged to – the maxim people leave their managers, not their companies, is extremely accurate in my case. And in both instances, I learned a lot!

When I myself juxtapose these past experiences, the keyword that comes into mind is humility. For the sake of discussion, the type of humility I am talking is not the one taken by measures of self-deprecating behaviors or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others. These people I regard as natural-born good people who would never lie or steal from someone because of the respect and admiration they would have for that person. When you progress in your career, you should not ever forget that learning opportunities will come from different sources and backgrounds, and if you somehow buy in the concept that you can only learn from “smart” people or people that you regard “smarter” than you, your possibilities will be extremely limited.

It is paramount that you understand that you never, ever (especially in today’s world) are alone in building your success. It does not matter whether you are starting your career and burning the midnight oil at the office, “alone.” Mind you: you are not alone! From the maintenance people that care that you have electricity running at your office to the doorman ensuring your safety, you have around you a vast selection of people which are “unknown” to the corporate ladder you are so avid to climb, people you might not even have noticed, but they are there to help with what they can offer.

There is a quote I once read about JFK why touring NASA or JPL, and all of a sudden, he crosses paths with a janitor with a broom in his hand and JFK asks him what he is doing. “I am helping put a man on the moon,” the Janitor answered. The striking thing here is not only the humility of a president to talk to a janitor, but that the janitor felt that his contribution was heard and what he could offer to this to the immense mission, no matter how small a contribution, was a contribution indeed. This exemplifies the word purpose. Standing on the shoulders of giants means that you are standing on the shoulders of people with a purpose, with a sense of community, with a sense of help. These are the giants that bring you to where you are today. One of the first things I always tend to look at ‒ whenever the opportunity presents itself, is how the CEO of the company greets the receptionist. This very simple gesture, of perhaps just greeting “good morning Mrs. Jones” or something in the like, speaks volumes about the character of the person leading your company. And will definitely, define the yardstick you will use to measure your business life within that company.

The hardest question you should ask yourself is: “Why should anyone be led by you?” In your career, you won’t be able to get anything done without an army of collaborators backing you up. You need giants who will pave the road ahead and offer you their shoulders for you to stand on. They will do this, not out of fear, but out of admiration for your style, because if you are a good leader, you’ll have captured their hearts.

And you might be telling yourself, “Well I am already acting like this!” which is a great assessment, and surely this will help you along your leadership road. Yet, the great majority of us, still struggle with a core element of leadership skills: people management and with that a clear strategy on how to grow and harvest the leadership seeds you have planted when deciding upon hiring your talents. If they grow, you grow, if they shine, you shine. Leadership and talents have a symbiotic nature, mutually helping each other along their individual journeys without being taken advantage of or exploited by each other. To stand on the should of giants, you will need to first nurture the people around you to become giants themselves.

Creating giants requires a good assessment of the future of the company you are leading and the type of talent it will need to bring it across the finishing line. The thrive for transformation and the ownership your team and your leadership style imbues in the corporate culture and the overall structure will be of quintessential nature to achieve this. This is the definite measure of success and the sole most important ingredient in defining how tall these giants will be.

Yes, humility and will, will take you there for sure, but along the process, it helps if you develop an understanding of what it means to be human. By now, you know I am a psychologist operating in the business world, and such a combination is nuclear on developing talents, aligning objectives and simply getting the job done. Anything you do, anywhere you are, you will invariably have to deal with people, and developing an understanding on how they function, their needs and goals, will provide you the tools to create the tallest giants you ever encountered.

I mentioned earlier in the article that people management skill is a dying art. A lot of CEOs are very financially driven and want people with very mathematical minds because the world in their minds is made of 1s and 0s – ok, perhaps not so radical. Yet, I tend to lean towards the talents who understand the principles of persuasion, the drivers in our psych, the things that made us tick. Some of these principles are so fundamentally basic in human interaction that from my point of view if someone is lacking some of them, I would worry.

If you want to create giants, make an effort to discover real similarities between you and your team and offer genuine praise. People like those who like them (liking principle). Also understand that people will invariably pay in kind (reciprocity principle), therefore, pay special attention to give to others what you want in return. But when say this, I say giving to others with no expectation of receiving anything as well.

We live in a society where people follow the lead of similar others. If I identify myself with a group, I will most like tend to like what they like, go where they go, say what they say. It is a natural process called the social proof principle. In business, it is not different, the tallest giants are built using peer power. Yet again, the backdrop of such social proof principle is also another principle called consistency. People align with clear commitments, and hence if you make your commitments active, public and voluntary, and people identify with them and assume them for themselves, then you will start the molding form of giants.

I know that all my talking sometimes tends to lead to thinking that a leader is liked by all, that leaders are always democratic, well not really. I also believe that the principle of authority is important, considering that people in general ‒when in doubt, will defer to an expert. Show your colors, expose your expertise, make it visible. It is naïve to think that people will recognize and appreciate your expertise if you have never even showed it and explicitly displayed it.

Another factor in the giant-making machine touches the principle of scarcity. People want more of what they can have less of. I believe the first thing that popped into your minds was money ‒ or at least material things. In the corporate world, one of the most powerful currencies is called information. If you are the dispensary of exclusive information and are capable of highlighting its unique benefits of it, you are the most powerful person in the room.

Creating the giants whose shoulders you will eventually stand on will also require a thorough understanding of the identities you carry in the corporate world. You are the manager and you are a leader, but keep in mind that each of them deals with very different corporate perspectives:

  • Management is about planning and budgeting, and leadership is about the direction

  • Management is about organizing, and leadership is about aligning

  • Management is about control and problem-solving, and leadership is about motivation

These three perspectives, aligned with the principles of persuasion, will equip your mindset to neatly codify your intuitive understanding of the way how people evaluate information and form decisions. These principles and alternative perspectives, if applied correctly, can steer decisions correctly and establish a strong base to create giants in your organization! Your life story, your authentic self, are the cornerstone for creating an environment where values and principles are practiced and balances the individual extrinsic and intrinsic motivations that empower people to lead and integrate their life by staying grounded…

May you develop a well-established vision on what you want to accomplish, and that you have the energy to pull it through, the authority to make the hard decisions, and above all, that you have a clear strategic direction for people to follow. Be human, show your weakness (selectively), learn about the people around you by developing a sensor that will let you rely on your intuition and manage your team with tough empathy, show that you care about them and their work and dare to be different.

That’s how you stand on the shoulders of giants!

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Marcos R. Dreher, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Marcos R. Dreher is an accomplished senior executive specializing in corporate strategy, marketing, and strategic intelligence. He has first-hand experience spanning different industries and business models paired with the ability to transfer methodologies and solutions from incubation to global go-to-market roadmaps. With an extensive international experience and fluency in six languages, he brings a robust mentoring toolbox developed across an extensive international experience and fine-tuned by a degree in Psychology, an MBA in General Management and Marketing, and a specialization in strategic marketing management at Harvard Business School.



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