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It’s the Relationships, Stupid
Look upon the work and despair
“The chief proof of man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Not everyone is destined to be a leader.
Shakespeare reminded us of how some — not all — are born or become leaders, while others are thrust into the situation.
But that “some” would imply that there are more followers than leaders. As is the natural order of things. If everyone were to try to lead, we’d end up in a world of chaos.
We need leaders.
But consider a world in which leaders overestimate their own abilities. Where “I alone can fix it” is the clarion call of narcissistic delusion, coupled with a lack of self-awareness, a penchant for invalidating ideas that aren’t theirs, and toxic micromanagement.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
Musk Rat Love
Elon Musk is a unique figure. Founder of Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company and a handful of others, he is fetishized by his many followers as infallible.
And his pattern of behavior — from spreading Covid-19 misinformation to calling a British diver and rescuer a pedo guy, to trolling and political misinformation — all are indicative of the toxicity and misinformation that may be permissible under his leadership at Twitter.
I’ve seen him called many things of late, including a “sociopathic toddler” and a shitposting teenager.
And I think it’s bound up in the idea that he has visionary intelligence, not emotional intelligence.
Emotionally-intelligent leaders are self-aware, practice self-discipline and empathy, and manage their relationships well. In a previous edition, I wrote:
It seems that more often than not, the ego-driven, ambitious, obsessive visionaries — call them what you will — are celebrated and rewarded. And to a certain degree that’s valid. For without drive, ambition, and self-confidence, it’s hard to stand out.
But kind of ego I’m talking about isn’t about that kind of motivation. It’s about the misguided and blind ambition — twisted, selfish, arrogant self-belief: when the visionary won’t tolerate naysayers or questions. When they seem to be detached from reality and think they can do no wrong. Think Travis Kalanick (Uber), Adam Neumann (WeWork), or Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook).
What we see happening now at Twitter is the result of an emotionally-unintelligent business magnate who joked about buying Twitter, was forced to honor the contract he signed, and is now randomly throwing around ideas that may in fact tank the platform.
As with many things I observe in the modern world, my mind finds little crevasses in history, and the occasion of a change in ownership of Twitter was no different.
In late 1817, Percy Bysshe Shelley1 and his financial advisor Horace Smith2 challenged each other to a contest: to write a sonnet about a passage from the writings of the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus — specifically one that described a massive Egyptian statue that has been toppled and its inscription:
“I am Ozymandias, king of kings. If any one would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass any of my works.”
Oh, the irony.
Shelley captured it as:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
“I am great OZYMANDIAS, saith the stone,
The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Either way, the moral is the same: Ozymandias was seduced by the thought that his power and influence might somehow last forever.
Legacy That Matters
Vainglorious leaders spend too much time worrying about their legacy. They hope to be remembered for the mark they leave on the world — for some, these things occupy their every waking moment.
We’d like to think our legacy assumes some permanence, as expressed in concrete, marble, or steel, but in “Ozymandias” Shelley reminds us such things are temporary.
True legacy — the legacy that matters — isn’t one that’s set in stone or on balance sheets. Your legacy will be in the stories they tell about you.
It will be carried on by employees long after you’ve left the company, who remember you fondly for the way you made them feel and continue to tell stories about what it was like.
At home, your family won’t remember you for your work achievements, nor for the headstone or mausoleum built to mark your final resting place. They’ll remember you for the love you show and the moments you share together.
In short, they’ll remember the joy, wonder, and awe you bring them.
Your monument will be built on relationships you nurture.
A Quote to Consider
“After I’m dead I’d rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one.” — Cato the Elder, c. 150 BC
For paying Ampersand Guild members, here’s a selection of articles from our Archives that touch on the notions of ego, permanence, and emotional intelligence:
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Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Horace Smith’s version:
In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone, Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws The only shadow that the Desart knows:— “I am great OZYMANDIAS, saith the stone, The King of Kings; this mighty City shows The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,— Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose The site of this forgotten Babylon. We wonder,—and some Hunter may express Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace, He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess What powerful but unrecorded race Once dwelt in that annihilated place.