while back, I received a distressed email from Ken, a
young manager at a high-tech company.
Ken and I had never met, but he had read my first two
books and had done his best to apply the ideas and
practices of Extreme Leadership to the way he'd led his
team. To their culture, their work ethic, their
camaraderie. When necessary, Ken told me, they would
band together and work hard -- 10 to 20 hours a day at
times -- to solve a problem or meet a pressing need.
Ken's wife would cook food for everyone and bring it to
the office. They felt like a family, he said,
committed to doing great work and devoted to one another's
success. No one ever complained, least of all Ken.
And then something happened. A downturn, a re-org, a
shift in the management structure -- we all know the
drill. Ken still had a job, but his position was
eliminated. New management full of old ideas came in
to oversee the department's function and the emotional
fibers that connected Ken's team to each other and to
their work unraveled.
"Now," Ken wrote, "for the last four weeks
I sat at my cubicle, web surfing for eight hours a day at
the same company where I once worked 39 hours straight
with my team to make things right, never going home.
"I'm not a quitter; I don't want to leave. But
-- just or unjust -- I feel stripped of everything we've
done," he said. "So the advice I'm looking
for is this:
"How do you get back up?"
admit that I was loath to hand out that kind of
potentially life-altering advice to someone I'd
never met. After all, I had only the
sketchiest of details about Ken's situation, and it
seemed way too presumptuous to represent myself as
the all-knowing answer man. But I did have an
idea for him, and I really felt that it could make a
huge, positive difference in Ken's life -- and in
the life of those he worked with.
And it wasn't the kind of advice you'd expect.
It's already become a cliché to say that we live in
unprecedented, challenging times. We all know
it. But the truth is, the world of work is
always challenging. That's why they call it
No matter the industry, market, or type of company
you work in, you've had to deal with some
combination of the classic work-place obstacles,
issues, and barriers to a satisfying, fulfilling
At some time or another, for example, you've
reported to bosses or people in positions of
authority who were self-centered at best, and
idiotically egotistical at worst. They took
all the credit and none of the blame and could care
less whether or not you succeeded or failed.
Or worse, they preferred that you'd fail, and took
great pleasure in your struggles.
Or perhaps you worked in a company that, even though
populated by terrific human beings, was so obsessed
with the bottom line and shareholder value that they
made executive, strategic decisions that compromised
the employees' ability to serve the customer.
And the customers, therefore, exited in droves.
You may have been in an environment that was
hyper-competitive to the point of paranoid,
risk-averse to the point of stifling, or so
political that it made you consider running for
local office just to get some relief.
We've all experienced some combination of these
themes with varying levels of intensity. And
we've all spent some amount of time and energy
navigating our way through the personal challenges
that the organizational pitfalls present. It's
just the price we pay for hanging out with other
Now, add to that the current, sucking implosion in
the economy, and it's easy to see why, with all our
efforts to be positive, productive leaders, we still
get knocked down from time to time. Sometimes
The problem is in the way we typically deal:
Our knee-jerk reaction in times of crisis is to hold
on tighter, to be more cautious in our actions, and
more protective of our resources. We think
that our way out -- or up -- will come by virtue of
shoring up and hoarding what we have.
There is, however, a much better, far more powerful
alternative. A counterintuitive course of
action based on this ageless reality of true
Your own greatness as a leader (or in just about
any other role you take on, for that matter) lies,
paradoxically, in your ability to cause others to be
greater than yourself.
Said another way, your (and my) best way out of a
challenge or crisis is not to focus on your own
peril or rut, but, instead, to reach out and try to
boost someone else over your head.
The idea should sound familiar. It's really
just a variation on the "do unto others"
sentiment of the Golden Rule, a philosophy that
exists in virtually all religions, schools of
thought, and philosophies on the planet. And
in none of those versions -- not one -- will you
find a footnote saying, "Does not apply Monday
through Friday between the hours of 9 to 5 or any
time you find yourself in a jam."
So the solution I offered to Ken was this:
Pick someone at work to invest in, with the intent
of making that person greater than you are. Be
a coach, guide, or mentor in the truest, most
personal sense of the words by choosing someone to
be your GTY (Greater Than Yourself) project, and see
what that does to your own predicament, your own
state of mind.
Maybe it was out of desperation, but as surprised as
he was by the curve ball I'd thrown him, Ken took my
advice and agreed to the challenge.
Two weeks later, Ken wrote to say that he'd thought
deeply about our conversation and had come to
realize that before he could lift someone else up by
sharing his knowledge and experience, he needed to
be sure that he had learned the right lessons from
the recent team trauma. So he'd met with his
boss, and asked for feedback on how he could have
acted differently, what he might have done to
contribute to the problem, and how he could be a
better leader in the future. The "30-minute
meeting turned into a two-hour confessional,"
said Ken, which resulted in him learning some hard,
"gold lessons" about himself.
"Now," he continued, "I've already
started to work with a tech on my team who wants to
be a manager. And I'm taking a vow," he
said, "to make the people around me better --
as I continue to grow myself. I'm going to
teach my children about this, too." Ken,
it seems, has gotten his energy back, and he's well
on his way to getting back up.
We're all human, just like Ken. And just like
him, we all get bashed down from time to time.
So, the next time that happens to you, resist the
temptation to pull yourself up by the proverbial
bootstraps, and reach out to pull someone else up,
instead. Go find someone to be your GTY
Come to think of it, why wait?
* * * * *
Steve Farber. Steve Farber, author of Greater
Than Yourself: The Ultimate Lesson of True
Leadership, the president of Extreme Leadership,
is a leadership consultant and speaker, and the
author of the national bestseller The Radical
Leap, and The Radical Edge. He lives in
San Diego, California.
someone up does not
reduce your stature—in
fact, it exalts you in ways
you have to experience
to believe. Greater Than
Yourself shows how you
can begin improving the world
by giving of yourself. It’s
a wonderful message wrapped
in a highly entertaining,