What Are You In It For?

Entrepreneurs and leaders face enormous challenges. They are not the same challenges, however, and it would be dangerous to genericize the concept of ’universal leader’ in the same way that ’homo economicus’ is a bit of a non-starter. The investment marketplace is an irrational place to play, but we are all unique in our irrationality.

So to it is with leadership. Alot has been studied, and far more written, about leaders and the qualities that make for effective leadership. The traits, behaviors and situational drivers of leadership have all been placed under the microscope for analysis, scrutiny and dissection.

Arguably less explored, but equally important, is the answer to the question, “Why do you want to be a leader, anyway?” to a certain extent, this was the question that Robert Greenleaf – a former executive at AT&T – was asking when he pioneered the concept of ’Servant Leadership’.

In essence, the motives for becoming a leader can be put on a continuum, from an extreme of, “I want the power, the trappings and prestige,” to an appreciation of, “from here, I am in a position to serve others.” very different extremes, motivated separately by ego and by service.

A recent article in Car, an extremely well-written automobile magazine from the UK, sparked contemplation of this question once again. A profile of Marcello Gandini, one of the most prolific and talented of Italian automobile designers, highlighted a long-running  and bitter rivalry between him and fellow designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Both had stellar careers that originated at Bertone, the famed Italian styling boutique. Giugiaro would go on to design classic cars such as the Alfa Romeo Gulia Sprint GT, the Lotus Esprit and the DeLorean DMC-12. Gandini developed a legendary reputation of his own, designing such models as the Lamborghini Miura, the Lamborghini Countach, the Fiat X1/9, the first BMW 5-series and even the iconic Renault 5.

What stood out for me, though, was how their rivalry was framed. For Giugiaro, when they had a periodic chance encounter, his first question was a challenge of, “How many employees do you have?” Clearly influence was how he kept score, climbing from 200 to 400 and beyond.

For Gandini, no less influential and possibly far more prolific, the answer was always the same. “Zero, zero and zero,” he would answer.

Some are leaders of people. Some are collectors of power and status. And some quietly go about the pursuit of genius in their no less effective but much quieter way.

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