A Leader's Subtle Power Of Insignificance
Discover the counter intuitive secret to success and use the power to drive your success as a leader.
It was just another evening in Pune, Maharashtra, India. The year was 2014. I heard that an astronomer from a planetary nearby was visiting our neighborhood. He had brought a telescope along to show the families (mainly kids) of our neighborhood the stars and planets, and teach them about the wonders of the night sky. I was done with my day at work and I decided to join.
He set up the telescope on a building terrace. The children formed a line behind him, eager for their turn to look into the telescope. Before anyone could get to the telescope, he gave a brief overview of how astronomers divide the sky and the methods they use to observe it. He spoke about a few planets and where in the sky to locate them. He then focused the telescope on planet Jupiter, so that everyone could see what he had just explained about the planet and its three visible moons. One by one, the kids (aged 5-10) looked into the telescope, discussed amongst themselves, some giggled and moved on. There was a lot of chatter and a slight hum of excitement surrounding the program. They were having a good time. The children had their turn; now it was the adults' turn. I was the last in line, and now, it was my turn.
I closed one eye and peered through the other. My eye took some time to adjust to the focus of the lens. After a couple of seconds, there it was. I saw planet Jupiter and its moons. Time seemed to stand still. There was something surreal. The chatter around me disappeared and I was totally one with that moment. I had seen high-resolution pictures of Jupiter before, but looking at it through the telescope was something else entirely. The moment may have only lasted a few seconds, but for me, it felt like an hour. I was completely immersed. I stepped away from the telescope, walked quietly to a nearby chair, and sat down. I couldn't explain the feeling I had.
After a few minutes of reflection, it dawned on me: I felt insignificant (in a beautiful way).
Following that day, I could experience the formation of a new perspective within me. The moment has been with me ever since. Over the next few days, I pondered over it a bit more and soon realized the power of insignificance.
You don’t need to have a similar experience to learn the power of insignificance. It can be learned. In this edition, I share how this experience has made me strive to be a better person and, consequently, a better manager.
The feeling of insignificance in this context is more about a realization. A realization that there is actually no hierarchy. No one is actually superior or significant. We all are just tiny specks of dust in the grand scheme of things, that’s it. And, it is actually a good thing.
Over the last few years I have been able to apply my perspectives at work and was able to see a positive impact within my teams. I was able to bring people together and accomplish challenging tasks personally and together as a team. If you are ready to set aside your ego and welcome this new perspective I believe you too will unlock the power of insignificance.
Here are 15 rules of an insignificant leader which I believe you can ponder on and choose to apply right away to set yourself on a path to success:
Avoid the temptation of feeling superior. No matter who you are, you are going to feel it. Recognize it, reject it and also understand that organizational hierarchy is not a platform for power.
Strive to be on the same level as your team. Question your action - “Is my response coming from superiority or from care?”
Understand that thinking of oneself as significant, can lead to unrealistic expectations, adding more pressure on you and your team.
Believe in building a bond with your team. Protect it with all your might.
Strive to stay grounded and be humble. It is a practice and takes time. The effort is the key.
The world does not revolve around you. Your sentences should mostly start with the word “We” and not “I”.
Understand that your team’s performance is not an outcome of one individual. It is not about one but about all. When you conduct yourself with this attitude of oneness, your team sees this and will resonate.
Let go of your ego now. Don’t let it stop you from exploring uncharted territories. Don’t hold back and expand your network. Don’t allow yourself to think from an elevated place.
Be open and listen with intent.
It is ok to say, “I don’t know”. You will feel lighter.
Strive to be grounded and inclusive. Again, effort is the key.
Remember, the more you learn, the more there is to learn. Never believe you know it all. Be curious.
Don’t be hard on yourself when you make a mistake. Own it, reflect on it and move on. You are not beyond your own reach.
Believe in preparation. In fact, believe in out-preparation and take nothing for granted.
Be approachable and receptive to change. Be willing to rethink and relearn.
Once you start applying these rules, you will observe that you have more time and bandwidth. You'll likely notice a big shift in yourself and those around you.
The renowned American astronomer Carl Sagan's iconic audio clip, "Pale Blue Dot", encourages introspection and provides a glimpse of our smallness. In just a few words, Sagan conveys the magnitude of our insignificance.
The Manager’s Prism is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Wow! I just read this blog and it gave me chills, I had my moment of feeling insignificant when I saw the Grand Canyon. I have just been so calm since that day.
Thank you again!
Great!! Well said.