Play It Lightly

The leadership instinct you are born with is the backbone. Then you develop the funny bone and the wishbone that go with it.
- Elaine Agather,
CEO, J P Morgan Bank

The most motivated people we work with are not taking themselves all that seriously.

The ones who struggle the most view the company's next success as their own mortgage payment or what holds their marriage together.

The managers who are the most creative, productive, and innovative see business as a chess game, played for fun and challenge. They conceive of all kinds of lovely moves and counter strategies. And when they "lose," they just set up the pieces again even more excitedly.

The worst failures and most miserable people at work are the ones who take everything too seriously. They are grim, discouraged, and bitter. They use only 10 percent of their brains all day. Their brains, once so huge in childhood, are now hardened and contracted into resentment and worry.

Here's what the overly serious people miss: the fun, the creativity, the lighthearted ideas, the intuition, the good spirits, the easy energy, and the quick laughter that brings people close to each other. They miss that. So no wonder they fail at what they're doing.

Anytime we take something that seriously, we will find ways to subtly and subconsciously run away from it all day. Secretly, we are like children. We resist the serious.

America's most respected scholar on organizational leadership today is Warren Bennis. In his book On Becoming a Leader (Perseus Publishing, Revised Ed., 2003), he stresses the difference between a leader and a manager: "The leader innovates; the manager administrates. The leader focuses on people; the manager focuses on systems and structure. The leader inspires; the manager controls. The leader is his own person; the manager is a good soldier. The leader sees the long-term; the manager sees the short-term."

G.K. Chesterton once said that angels can fly only because they take themselves lightly.

We say the same of leaders.

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