When you break it all down past all the advice and clichés and truisms, effective leadership is really about one fundamental action: Inspiring others inside a growing vision. When we invest our energy and talent in this, and we allow our choices to be defined by this, we give ourselves – and our team – the best opportunities to be successful.
To get there, we have to embrace and internalize a key realization that sometimes eludes us as leaders. A scene in the recent Doctor Strange movie illustrates the necessity of this understanding and shift well.
In the film, renowned brain surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange is crippled in a terrible automobile accident. Determined to regain the dexterity necessary to be who he had made himself to be, Dr. Strange exhausts all of his ideas in search of an answer. After a series of disappointing failures leaves him no place else to turn, Strange learns of a mystic in the Far East who helped heal a paralyzed man.
Strange travels to this place, hoping to secure his own miracle. Instead, he finds a new perspective.
In one of the most poignant scenes in the first half of the movie, the Ancient One confronts Strange about why he is failing in his mission: his vision and perspective are too small.
Ancient One: “Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.”
Strange: (sulking) “Which is?”
Ancient One: “It’s not about you.”
Strange has everything he needs to be successful. He has the talent, the intellect, the motivation and the vision … he even has a personal growth plan … but his laser focus on himself means he can’t get out of his own way.
In Strange’s world, every attempt from others who care for him to help is an obstacle. Every new idea outside of his own is a threat. Any colleague who might expand the scope of the vision is perceived as a competitor to be belittled and challenged. New perspectives are not permitted.
Strange has to learn, if he wants to achieve true success, his vision must be bigger than what he is able to manage on his own. As leaders, when we seek to grow personally, we achieve this goal best when we seek to grow in ways that help us better inspire others.
When Strange adapted his growth plan to include supporting the visions of others and inspiring his colleagues to grow themselves, he was able to find a solution to a much larger challenge. Even his questions became “bigger” and more visionary. He started off asking: “How will I get my hands to work again?” He ended up answering the question: “How will I save the world?”
We may not ever have the opportunity to save the world. Yet, every day, we have the opportunity to make the world better. We manage this best when we don’t confuse “carrying the vision” with “being the vision.” Leadership is not measured by what we can do for ourselves. It is defined by how we inspire others to join us in doing something greater than any of us can do alone.
*Image credits: Doctor Strange, YouTube, Screen Rant via Marvel Studios
*Movie images and names used only as examples. No connection of any kind is stipulated or implied.