“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

J.R.R Tolkien


“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

William Shakespeare


Ok. This is about business and business leadership. Now. this one is gonna be a bit tricky because I am going to use words like ‘above’ when it comes to leadership. I believe once you read all the way thru you’ll get a better sense of what I mean but let me just say that I believe at any given point, on any specific project, anyone is capable of leading. For today I am speaking more of those who typically ‘guide’ a business – those types of leaders. The ones who don’t speak of alignment <demanding people align behind them> but rather coherence <people aligned toward a vision>. Let me also add I think it is silly to not talk about leaders as being ‘different’ <leadership of groups of people is a certain type of skill> and even sillier to not talk about leadership skills <I believe it is always good to highlight some healthy principles>.


Leading is a big job. It carries big responsibilities and big burdens. You have to be big enough in some way <skills, character, smarts, etc.> to stay above the organization and employees. And I say “above” because part of leading is being able to see above the heads of everyone so that you can lead and align and step in when and where appropriate.  Above is not dominance, per se, just that you maintain a dominant-sight position from which you can most effectively and efficiently lead.

Now. Here is what any good leader knows, you don’t have to be big to, well, be big.  Heck. You don’t even have to act ‘big.’

In addition. A good leader can leave the comfort of the ‘throne’, i.e., the trappings of the ‘bigness’ –the natural ‘dominance’ power-dynamics bullshit that comes with a title — and still remain above even when stepping down or away from all those things.

However. Not everyone is an effective leader. And not every leader is particularly good at navigating the natural doubts <am I doing the right thing, am I doing the best thing, am I doing the thing I should be doing, etc.> that come along with being a leader. By the way, any good/sane leader has some doubts on occasion. It keeps them grounded.

Regardless. As a corollary to that ‘leadership is a big job’, that that means is there will inevitably be business people who fear looking small. And they protect their illusions of ‘bigness’, or being bigly, mainly in several ways:

    • They diminish everyone they can in the attempt to make others as small as they can so that they look bigger no matter the comparison

    • They find a ‘safe space’ in which they place their metaphorical throne and make everyone come to them <this is kind of like the boss who purposefully has their desk built slightly higher and the chairs facing the desk slightly lower to insure they maintain a physical dominant position>

    • They avoid, as much as possible, one-on-one interactions with anyone their own size <unless they can control the environment>

    • They ground themselves in platitudes under the guise of “flexibility & adaptability” so they can avoid having to defend anything specific with anyone who could diminish their bigness

It is not difficult to look around and see reminders of ineffective leadership style and the characteristics of insecure leadership. Simplistically, the number one characteristic of insecure leadership is the inability to walk among and still stay ‘above’. Insecure leaders are extremely hesitant, if not completely resistant, to leaving their ‘dominant position.’

Let me explain ‘dominant position’ because it can sound bad <and it is mainly meant to express a position of authority but for today its is to metaphorically offer a vivid demonstration>. A CEO or a president is clearly in a dominant position by title and by responsibility and, in many cases, by some larger skill that got them to where they are. A true ‘dominant position’ <let’s call it “authority” to guide> combines all aspects.  Therefore the ‘good’ person in the dominant position combines substance and style <or science and art>. And this is where insecurity steps in, because if this person has any true doubts with regard to their ‘dominant position’ – mostly doubts on their substance — they start exhibiting some insecure characteristics. Simultaneously, they will dial up their style aspects to cloak any substance deficiencies and become excruciatingly careful with regard to how they interact with other people.

Let me explain.

This is where the underbelly of ‘dominance’ rears its ugly head.

“They need to come to me” <thereby establishing some aspect of subservience and feeds the sense of ‘dominant position’>. And it is not a one-off. And they do it .. every .. frickin’ … day. They never truly “go among the people” nor do they unite by inserting themselves into any opposing groups <people who may not agree> opening up to say “let me be part of what you want.”  This person’s entire leadership style is driven by an insecurity of ‘dominant position’ perceptions and they fear ‘stepping down’ from that position for fear it will expose the fact they are not really ‘above’ anyone other than in title.

In other words, they fear looking small.

And therein lies the larger lesson.

Good leaders don’t become smaller when they among people or go to people rather than make people go to them. They know there are no ‘little people’, but rather only big responsibilities of which everyone has but they fear smallness.

Little people are little wherever they go or even if they sit in the corner office. Unfortunately for us a little leader knows this, uhm, and doesn’t know this. What I mean by that is they can sense their littleness therefore they go out of their way to stay within whatever cocoon of ‘bigness trappings’ to encourage the belief they have that they are actually big. And, yet, they don’t know this because they tend to have an oversized view of themselves <”should come to me” attitude>. They see themselves through a fairly warped view of self-relevance: “everyone else becomes more relevant by being around me therefore they become bigger in my bigness.” And that partially outlines their main fear. Loss of relevance.  Anyone who becomes more relevant than them is a danger. Loss of power, the illusion of or real, is the danger. Littleness is the danger they fear.

What that all means is that an insecure leader more often than not lives in a mentality in which everyone is treated as if they should be subservient.

Let me be clear.

No sane business leader <in this generation> has this attitude.

You cannot.

You cannot because you know many of the people working for you are actually smarter than you and a shitload more just may know something you do not know.

You cannot because oftentimes your peers, who actually report to you, may actually be better than you at some things.

You cannot because you know that good people never want to feel subservient, but rather want to feel being a key part of overall success.

Most of those who lead have learned these things not by attempting to learn to be ‘above’, but rather by learning how to lead. And you learn that mostly by getting into ‘the game’ and realizing you can play anywhere at any time. I know that I took an advertising job as a young newly promoted VP in NYC not out of any desire to be the best, but because I was curious. I was curious to see if I could “play in the NYC advertising game.” I didn’t need to be the best nor did I desire to dominate. I just wanted to see if I could play. I can tell you that once you become comfortable with knowing you can play at the biggest level and the lowest level you have a fighting chance to become a leader.

Look. We all have numerous character flaws and it is a sad truth the majority of us can’t see them. This is even more difficult in a leadership position because you do naturally become more self-aware of any of the things you are good at and yet also not good at, but you also lean heavily on the things you ‘perceive’ got you where you are today. We have a tendency to arc our behavior toward some of the wrong things. We are aware, but do some wrong things with the right intentions.

I say that because insecure leaders are relatively hollow on the self-awareness which leads to ‘wrong intention leadership.’

Here is what I know.

Big leaders are big leaders. And they are big because wherever they go they retain their bigness. That means they need not ‘stay above’ to be big. They can be among people, sit in town halls answering questions from real people as well as sit down with people who didn’t ask for you to become the C-whatever as well as sit down with peers and discuss ideas — and walk away just as big as they entered the room.

Small leaders cannot do those things, therefore, they do not.

I have now given you a way to judge big leaders from small leaders. I say judge away. Every leader should be judged, and judged harshly, because … well … they are leaders and that is their burden.

Written by Bruce