I, like three billion people worldwide, spent most of Friday night in front of my television, watching the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Turned out I was also one of 23 million Canadians, and one of 32 million Americans who did exactly the same! I loved every moment of the spectacular and poignant pomp and pageantry, and repeatedly found myself swallowing a lump in my throat that unexpectedly appeared as I felt oh-so-proud to be a Canadian!
Not surprisingly, for every waking moment since Friday night, the ceremonies has been THE hot topic of conversation with my friends and colleagues, both online and in-person. The feedback about the event has been overwhelmingly positive, except for one repeated complaint that has come up so often that I can’t help but notice. No … it wasn’t the malfunctioning hydraulic lift for the Olympic cauldron. Neither was it the spectacle of Wayne Gretzky standing for 10 minutes in the back of a pickup truck, drenched in the pouring rain. No … what caused a whole bunch of people to get their knickers in a twist was Nikki Yanofsky’s rendition of O Canada! This 16-year old Canadian singing sensation delivered the Canadian national anthem, but her unique slow-motion jazz spin on the familiar household melody caused many a patriotic Canadian to cringe. Turns out that people want their national anthem to sound like the national anthem, and not a jazz-pop song. Turns out that Canadians want to sing along with the recognizable tune, and not squirm in impatience while a single note gets carried aloft for what seems like an eternity.
Why is it that this rendition of the national anthem, from an up-and-coming young star who clearly has a lovely and powerful voice, caused so much consternation? It took a remark from an American colleague before I finally got it! “It was self-indulgent,” he said. “It was about showcasing her talent, and not about the event or the crowd.” My colleague was right. Unfortunately, likely at the advice of others, Nikki Yanofsky made O Canada about her, instead of about Canadians. A national anthem belongs to the people; not to the singer or the arranger. As Canada was showcasing itself to the world, the crowd wanted to participate, they wanted to patriotically belt out the anthem together, but they couldn’t, because the arrangement was about Nikki Yanofsky, and not about Canadians.
So what does that have to do with leadership (because after all, that’s what this blog is about)? Plenty. One of the characteristics of successful leaders is that it’s never about them – their ego, their self-worth, or their personal ambitions – it’s always about others – the people they lead. Exceptional leadership is about building up the self-esteem of the people who work for you, it’s about supporting your employees in achieving their goals, it’s about creating an environment where your staff can excel. Yet, so many people managers in organizations get caught up in personal agendas and self-promotion. Ironically, they don’t see that it’s the people who “make it about others” that are the first to achieve personal goals and attain extensive recognition. Bottom line: leadership is not about you; it’s about the people who work for you.
In your day-to-day role as a leader, are you creating opportunities for your people to participate, to “belt out the anthem” together? Do you know any people managers who make it about themselves rather than about their people?