I was still working at Microsoft a couple years back when I heard about the developer division winning the most prestigious marketing award presented by CEO Steve Ballmer. The award was being presented to a team I had once led for a project that I launched together with my friend Federico.
"Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition."
-- Abraham Lincoln
It was an uneasy feeling because, while I felt really good that my ideas were being recognized as transformational for the company, I also felt bad for not getting credit and recognition for those ideas. That's when Federico shared one of his great insights: “Leadership is invisible," he said. Since then, I have been thinking more about this concept of invisible leadership.
"Avoid getting credit for your ideas. It’s easier to accomplish things if you don't worry about getting the credit. Eventually people will learn about you and respect you even more."
-- Benjamin Franklin
True leadership is about what you leave behind, about the change you have made in people and in organizations. The best kind of leadership is invisible leadership, because it eliminates any trace of ego or self-centered interest that the leader may have and focuses on truly leading. Many people say they want to be leaders, although what they really want is power. Power is getting people to do things because of position, money or fear. Leadership is inspiring people, sharing a vision of a better future, changing mindsets, and ultimately getting people to do things differently.
“A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.”
-- Lao Tzu
A key difference is in the intentions of a leader. You can seek a leadership position because you are looking for power and recognition or lead because you want to guide people to a better place and to make a difference in people's lives. Some time after leaving Microsoft, I spent two years at Bazaarvoice, the company that manages online ratings and reviews for most Internet stores. Last month, the company announced their Trust Mark, a set of principles that aims to give consumers confidence in the reviews they manage. It was an idea I championed while working at the company. It was a concept I tried to sell and, for whatever reason, it was not possible at that time. Now, it gives me great satisfaction to see that the idea did not die. Almost three years after I left the company, a vision I planted is becoming a reality.
"Good leaders, therefore, learn from God to be invisible. They are known only from their work, their speeches and their ideologies."
-- Awdhesh K. Singh
In my stories above, I did not get credit, but I felt a sense of pride because my vision became the standard for launching products and an idea I championed is now a reality. Leaders are driven by pride, not by ego.
“Credit is infinitely divisible. Give it away every chance you get, and there’s always plenty left for you.”
-- Don Berwick
I hate company politics and am not good at “playing the game,” which I suspect has slowed my forward progress. However, I’m OK with this notion. Not only do I sleep better at night, but also I get tremendous satisfaction from helping people around me grow. Invisible leadership is not a concept that will necessarily move you forward in your career. I am not even sure it is entirely compatible with Corporate America. This is not a post on career advice, nor is it a post on how to get the next leadership title. This is a post about aspiring to be a “true” and “egoless” leader.
“The final test of leadership is: Did you leave things better than you found them? Will your employees be promoted, have a better career, even have a better life because they spent a few seasons with you? Have they learned and grown as a result of your influence? The real question is: Will people be glad you were there? “
-– James Hunter
Leadership is about what you leave behind. In this New Year, perhaps a good resolution could be to embrace “invisibility,” get out of the way, and let your team get the credit.