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Hiding Your Leadership: The Jersey Joe Walcott Way of Leading

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

The challenge for all people of ambition is to recognize that the pursuit of success creates constant temptations to sacrifice integrity and that there is a point at which the price of success makes its fulfillment worthless. —Michael Josephson


Former heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott was training for a fight against a boxer with a ferocious left hook. Asked if he was worried, Jersey Joe replied, "Nope. I'll take his left hook and put it in his pocket." 

Walcott's low-key, wry, confident attitude matched his boxing style. He hardly looked as if he was fighting at all. It was more like Aikido than boxing, the martial art that controls an attacker by redirecting their energy instead of blocking it.

Jersey Joe did not attack. He lured his opponent to him. He shuffled "the Walcott Shuffle."  He created ingenious punching angles. He faked not only with his hands but with his shoulders. He threw a sneaky right-hand counter and a counterpunch left. 

In other words, Jersey Joe, to better employ his boxing abilities, hid those abilities. Jersey Joe Walcott supplies a lesson in leadership.

To be a better leader, do what most leaders neglect to do, are even ignorant of: hide your leadership. 

Why would you want to hide your leadership? Isn’t a leader supposed to stand out? When you are a leader, aren't you supposed to be the center of attention, telling people to do things?

Yes, being a leader is proper if you view leadership in its conventional terms and get average results. 

But if you want to be a leader who gets consistently excellent results, remember Jersey Joe, if only for this simple, powerful dictum most leaders miss. People are more effective not when they are "ordered to ..." but when they "want to ..."  Having people "want to" through your leadership is the drive shaft of all impressive results.

Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, wrote 2500 years ago: "As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate ... When the best leader's work is done, the people say, 'We did it ourselves!'" In other words, the best leadership is hidden leadership. 

Leadership is about getting results; however, one may define those results. You will not be a leader for long if you cannot get results. But clearly, you cannot get results by yourself.

It would help if you had others to help you do it. The "best" leader is the leader who gets the "best" results for the good of other people.

The best results are tied to a concept I have been teaching: When they look to get results, they should look to get more results; they should look to get faster results; and they should seek to get "more, faster" continually. 

If hiding your leadership does not help you continually get more results, then it should be taken no more seriously than the notion that the moon is made of green cheese.

How does hiding your leadership achieve these results? The HOW is in "want to." But remember this: the people's motivation is not the choice of the leaders. It is the choice of the people. Leaders communicate, and the people themselves motivate. They choose to motivate themselves. When your leadership is showed not on stage but behind the scenes guiding them to be motivated to make that choice, you are creating a super-charged environment conducive to the establishment of more results faster, continually.

What is the best way to hide your leadership? Hide your leadership by realizing the Leader's Imperative. "I will lead people so that we accomplish the needed results and help one another grow personally and professionally."

This has two parts: results, accomplishments, and self-improvement. You are never more powerful as a leader when, in getting results, you are helping others be better than they are, even better than they thought they could be. And when you realize the Imperative, you are advancing yourself in the best way by promoting them. 

Make hiding your leadership a way of life. Evaluate every leadership situation against the Leadership Imperative. Build the Imperative into your strategy and tactics, and have it been a driving factor in your interpersonal relationships. 

Two points of caution. First, do not mistake or mistakenly communicate the pejorative side of "hide." The word can have a negative connotation: i.e., that you have something to hide, that you are running away from somebody or something, or that you are being secretive or sneaky. 

Use the word positively; you are hiding your leadership to realize the Leadership Imperative better. 

Second, hiding your leadership can fail if you do not hide it robustly. Hiding your administration does not mean living an easy life for yourself, i.e., detaching yourself physically and emotionally from the people and doing your own thing. Instead, hiding your leadership means living a hard life for other people, i.e., working hard, taking risks, and putting yourself out to promote their welfare. 

You will never know how well you are as a leader unless you lead people to be better than they think. You will have a better chance of manifesting your best leadership when you lead the way Jersey Joe Walcott fought and have the people say, "We did it ourselves!"

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