The title of this piece is interrogative. It is a question, with the mark (?) that we as managers must endeavour to ask ourselves, day in and day out. This is done to ensure that any drifting from reality is quickly checked and in good time. Illusions are always glorious to believe in. All of us love to live in illusion. It is human. Pleasing as it may sound, about being important to a nation, society or a corporate, a cursory self-examination based on honesty, may cast away the deceptive belief.
What answer has your mind conjured to this question, “are you important”? If it is no, then you have assessed well against the backdrop of the history of mankind and leadership. But if you answered to yourself with a “yes” – then you could be right to a very small measure and far too wrong. As leaders and managers it is a good reminder to re-call often, the wisdom of Lord Alfred Tennyson, “…… Men may come, And men may go, but I will go forever…” (The Brook).
The importance of a single individual in the lives of nations, societies and corporates has been built upon promises like, “history of the world is but the biography of great men’ and ‘Lives of great men remind us all, and we can make our lives sublime’. But is it a justifiable foundation to build a thought that “I am important”. I don’t think so.
On most occasions, it is the emergence of events and challenges that throw up, out of necessity great leaders. If the event were to be taken away, all greatness of an individual falls to pieces. We may give credit to ‘great’ men, individuals for leading corporates into giant organisations – and these are in plenty. But only when the helmsman leaves, what he has built, does the real test of greatness of effort comes into play - if he hangs boots at the right time, to the well trained successor can, the institution gathers the quality of sustainability. Many good organisations have been effaced from the chronicles of corporate history, where the ‘one important’ person left no legacy of a successful process of succession.
Is the assignment or task important or is it the person to whom the task is assigned? This is a subject of intense debate in history with no logical or solid conclusions. I can’t imagine a Winston Churchill without World – War II; Can’t think of a Napoleon Bonaparte without the ruthless monarchy or even an Abraham Lincoln, without the oppression of minority by the majority; and the list can go on….
Self-glorification draws thick curtains upon faults. It is a great feeling of elation to love oneself for perceived abilities at managing people. A Burmese proverb says; In another’s eyes, but in his own eye he sees no dirt. And that is true of the self-granted feeling of importance, by aberration of mind.
Death reminds / corrects all illusions of indispensability. I implore all managers and particularly CEOs to visit graveyards regularly to see where lie the greatest of corporate executives – hopefully with no tensions or hallucinations of self-importance – but lie just in absolute peace! Graveyards have no boundary walls; they swell over on to the lands of life.
The “important life” will surrender to the ever equalizer. Self-Importance has no place in a cemetery. No manager can ill-afford to not remain cognizant that, “All human beings / things are subject to decay and when fate summons, monarch (read managers) must obey”. So where is self-importance?
The term of office of the US President cannot exceed two terms, totaling right years, only Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been an exception, since US independence. Why is there restriction of eight years? What was the moving force of the founding fathers of US, when they were drafting a limitation on the term of office of the US President? Obviously, being farsighted they knew that no man must become “the state”; for long rule by a single man, is a sure disaster recipe either for the country or even the corporate entity. The vision of one man has in-built limitations too; continuity and complacency are two great enemies of foresight and vision.
Most dictators live longer political lives, but their success if any, dies a quick death. We have third term PM’s and his heavy baggage of equal and most likely lesser intellect people, free loaders; and look around the consequences of one man’s perceived importance to the country! It is a classic case of chaos and a false sense of personal destiny linked up with the nations destiny, done with Goebbel’s articulation – repeat falsehood to such degree that even those who know what is untrue begin to think, that falsehood is truth. Strange deception. “Politicians” (managers too!) are like nappies. They should be changed regularly and for the same reason” (Patrick Murray).
Corporate governance code restricts holding of certain offices beyond the pre-defined time limits. The perpetual “renewal” of contract beats its purpose; because unlike the US constitution, there is no maximum limit specified in terms of numbers of years. A long serving CEO, manager or supervisor is a tale of a lifelong romance with his limited faculties and abilities.
As manager you can change the course of events for your organisation for better results. These changes will however be housed and filtered within bounds of time and relevance. Everything has a sell-by date. It is not just juices, medicines and men (the important ones particularly), but also ideas and concepts.
There is hardly in today’s dynamic world and its economics, a room for any self-styled, “Mr Know-all” leader. To lead is to accept that the team has better constituents than your own self. And that is recognition of not being important. This will lead to team work, as captured poetically by, William Shakespeare in Henry Vth, ….” Many things, having full reference, to One Consent, may work contrarily. As many arrows loosed several ways, fly to one mark as many meet in one town, as many fresh streams meet one salt sea, so may a thousand actions once afoot, end in one purpose, and be all well borne without defeat”. This one man who claims self-importance can find his role reduced to gathering the different view of the team members. Just that! An over-arching view and perspective does not create self-importance. If as a manager, you possess a thought not to create a large reservoir of successors to critical positions for fear of losing self-perceived importance; it is a sad tale of corporate behaviour.
Subscription to the view that what is good for the entity, man not be good for the self-important manager, will cause this deceitful manager to make effort towards seeing that there are not too many “aspirants” around him. Those managers who consider themselves great, are not great, but in the least they are good imposters. JK Galbraith, the economist remarked, “The Salary of the chief executive officer (for my purpose, read here chief important officer!) is not a market reward for achievement. It is frequently a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself”. CEOs, regardless to any bright side to their personalities, suffer equally from the ailment of being “I am important”.
The great and important (all self-styled) demand reverence. Nikita Khrushchev with great courage has this to say, only after the terminator, Franz Joseph Stalin was dead, “When Stalin says, ‘dance’; a wise man dances”. If you are dancing to the supervisor, the “important” pied piper tunes, in your division, who believes, he is important and a “corporate Stalin”, wait... he will be proven wrong. All the important men are in cemetery and only the unimportant outside it.
The writer is a freelance columnist