The bathroom in my house locks from the outside — if you close the door as you’re leaving, whoever’s inside is trapped. I can think of several fates worse than death, and one of them involves being locked in a fraternity house bathroom.
My friend was using the bathroom one time as I was brushing my teeth. As I was leaving, I jokingly told him that I’d lock him in (I was still pissed that he beat me in basketball earlier that day). He replied that if I did lock him in, it’d be a “power move.”
But I don’t see the power in using my temporary moment of dominance, where by chance I was by the door and he was occupied doing something else, to lord over my friend and have him at my mercy. That’s not power. I could have locked him in, and the next day, he could make a similar “power move” by replacing my shampoo with toothpaste, by stealing my phone and writing something unsettling on my Facebook or by doing whatever other weird thing he’d do.
A power move is actually a move that brings other people up, that gives someone else the opportunity to do something they wouldn’t have been able to do.
It takes a lot of security in your own “power,” so to speak, to “relinquish” that power for a moment and give someone else the chance to do something great and feel good about themselves. It’s as if you’re so comfortable with your level of influence and capability that you don’t think that giving someone else a platform would threaten yours in any way, shape or form.
Leadership is something I think about all the time. I’ve been involved in many organizations, from youth groups to tech start-ups to marketing agencies to research labs. I’ve been at the bottom of the totem pole as an intern, I’ve served as a colleague and peer and I’ve managed teams. I’ve worked with some stellar leaders, managers and bosses, people who I still look up to and actively keep in touch with because I’m confident that they’ll change the world. I’ve also worked with nightmarish leaders who frankly need to read this article.
I’ve noticed a key commonality in my favorite bosses, something that the worse leaders didn’t pick up on. The good leaders focused their energy on building up their team. It went beyond just a generally supportive and encouraging attitude — they did dramatic things, like deferring all credit to the people they managed (even if it wasn’t 100 percent deserved); and they did subtler things, like taking an interest in how employees days were going (even when they’re slammed with things to do). They would understand failure, and were gentle yet honest in their feedback, and they would pump you up when you succeeded, letting everyone else know how awesome you are.
They were different in that they didn’t derive their meaning and success from them doing great work. They didn’t want to be seen as the best writer or the best salesman or the best engineer in the room — they wanted their people to be seen as the best collective around. They were so confident in the fact that they could do a great job at whatever field they were in that they didn’t need personal validation. Instead, they were committed to the results of the team that they were in charge of, finding that validation from the finished product.
I have a hard time with this because I’m too driven to be seen as the best. In high school, I had to work to stop my “lone wolf” tendencies. I felt like I had to prove myself all the time. When I interned at a start-up last summer, I was always the dumbest person in the room; the people around me were brilliant. Yet they went out of their ways to boost each other up, even the 18 year-old intern. That’s why I’m convinced that this company will thrive — the leaders are committed to a culture of empowerment.
To use a basketball analogy, people often think the best kind of leaders are the Kobe Bryant types — the individual talents that shine so bright that nothing else matters — the types that are so good at what they do that they can will their teams to victory. The good leaders are more like Draymond Green — those that can hold their own in individual elements of the game, but whose true value comes from their ability to set their teammates up for success with world-class passes and rebounds. To use a different analogy: Kanye West has put out seven impactful, polarizing and best-selling albums, and not because he’s in the studio doing everything. He gets the best producers, vocalists and sound engineers he can find. And he guides them with his vision, letting people better than him accomplish his ideas via whatever skill they bring to the table. You’d think otherwise because of his massive ego. But his massive ego comes from his objectively amazing body of work, and he’s so focused on producing the best albums that he can that he’ll put that ego aside in order to totally devote himself to the creative process.
My friend has lived on to tell his tale – he didn’t have to die an undignified death in the bathroom stalls of AEPi. No “power” moves were executed on my part. I was powerful enough to leave the door open and bring him some Febreeze.
I’ve written 1000 words about leadership, but I could write 10,000 more because I don’t think there’s anything more important in the world. Anyone who follows politics, regardless of ideology, can agree that our leaders in government have the potential to be much more competent and effective. And with humanity-defining issues including climate change and world hunger looming, we sure as hell need the best leaders we can get. At UC Davis, we need great leaders in our clubs and organizations: in ASUCD and in Mrak Hall. Great leaders leading great teams will take on anything life throws at them. They, and by they I mean you, will save our school, our country and our planet.
You can reach YINON RAVIV at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @YR195.