I reread recently an old New York Times article in which the popular actor Hank Azaria commented on how fellow actor William H. Macy had taught him that you don't always have to be the center of attention. "There is a tremendous dignity and honesty in not doing that," Azaria said. "You can really let other people have their thing. And if you do that honestly enough, it’s its own terrific thing."
One of the most frequently repeated leadership truisms
is that you can get a lot accomplished if you don't mind who gets the
credit, a philosophy generally attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. But
what Azaria and Macy are talking about goes even deeper I think.
I've witnessed quite a few leaders in my time who are
very good at letting others get the credit, but they still somehow
manage to be the focus of attention. In some cases, that's because it
seemed like they were just going through the motions, giving credit to
others because that's what good leaders are supposed to do. In other
instances, it felt as if these individuals couldn't quite imagine
maintaining their leadership position without also being the center of
attention. And I am sure that at other times, some individuals
genuinely did not want to command all of the attention, but those around
them would not allow that to occur.
I imagine that one of the greatest challenges for
individuals in high profile positions is to maintain a strong enough
self-awareness, a self-regulating internal compass per se, to know when
they are overshadowing or crowding out attention that others deserve.
Just think about the humility and fortitude it can require to not let
yourself be the object of others' attention, appreciation, and
affection. Sure we all need positive feedback, and our efforts deserve
to be noticed. But attention has a strange self-amplifying quality to
it. Those getting attention seem to keep getting more of it in some
sort of ever-increasingly spiral of envy, adulation, or appreciation.
Those not noticed by others often toil away in perpetual obscurity.
The individuals I find myself most respecting are the
ones who act as prisms, refocusing (when appropriate) the appreciation
and attention of others on the individuals who are most directly
responsible for the achievements being realized. I can only imagine that
at one point in their careers they were the benefactors of similar
efforts and they are secure enough in their own self-concept to shine
the light on others. The example they set is one worth all of us