As a rule, we like to put our celebrities on pedestals. For a change, I thought about a different context – how about when we are placed on a pedestal and brought down (and before you call it narcissistic, let me assure you that each of us is held up to a pedestal by someone – a team member, a friend, a relative (moms’ of course don’t count!)). The pedestal can be one of many types – you can be on a “kindness” pedestal (meaning someone sees you as a very kind guy), a “fairness” pedestal (probably outcome of a few appraisal cycles sometime!), a “wisdom” pedestal (maybe you just refuse to get angry no matter what the provocation), a “generosity” pedestal and so on…Like I said, there are infinite pedestals and you can find yourself being put on one of them – irrespective of whether want to be on one or not. Of course choosing to stay on top is your decision.
Let me elaborate with a story. Recently, a team member told me I had betrayed “his trust”. Or in other words I had fallen off his pedestal. A pedestal he assured me he had put me on for 5 years at least. Picking myself up and brushing off the dust, I asked him what made him put me down – and more importantly, how is it that I climbed that pedestal in the first place?
What he told me (first hesitantly and then fluently) opened my eyes to a whole new world. It appeared I had taken some very fair (in his view) decisions consistently over the years. Decisions he had thought I would buckle under (like putting a very able but first-class-jerk in his place and so on) I had aced. I had also stayed true to my words. And then this year, I had taken a decision to promote someone (and that too at his cost!) who he felt was surely unworthy. There was consequently a breach in the trust, but he advised me that I could do do my image a bit of good if I could promise him I’d do the right thing the next time around.
I thanked him for his candor but told him I couldn’t promise anything a year away (given the economic uncertainty, I would need an astrologer mindset to predict anything at all with some confidence!). I also walked him through the logic of my decisions (as far as was possible and as well as I could stitch it together – I suspect some unconscious embellishment to make me look rational would have figured too!) – and the constraints. I emphasized also that while I owned the decision, it was really a group call – so while the decisions could have been wrong, they were designed to reduce bias.
But the thought didn’t leave me – something big was at play here – and as I started seeking wiser counsel, I realized it was indeed. Many leaders I admired told me they had experienced “being placed on pedestals and then dropped” as well. And the following were the major inferences/ advice to avoid being crippled:
- Remember the pedestal is a mental construct of someone else’s. And therefore by definition it isn’t true. So just because someone puts your image on the king’s throne you are not a king – its just another doll on a make-believe seat. If on the other hand, you start believing the whole pedestal thing, you will begin to need conforming to a different morality standard. Since you are on someone else’s pedestal – to retain the position – you will need to confirm to his views and morality and that can be very limiting – as we discuss in the next point
- A pedestal is always finite (or in other words limited) – a few feet wide and a few feet long at most. Not enough room to move around – put yourself on someone’s pedestal and you’ll start feeling claustrophobic
- Pedestals require effort from the guy who’s building it. And the more effort, taller the pedestal – and greater his expectations of you. And taller the pedestal, the more impactful the fall. This is why public feels “devastated” when celebrities fail (but are ok to forgive a commoner when he does not fulfil their expectations – afterall he’s just a man!)
- This does not mean we should be ungrateful to the pedestal builders. We should thank them – but let them know that the pedestal is fiction. And once they understand that, they will appreciate you more for it
- Where possible, its best not to not build pedestals for ourselves for others – if the object of our admiration is a wise man – any pedestal failure will hurt us not the object
- Try new experiences, meet new friends, renew yourself afresh. Pedestals take time to solidify, so don’t give yourself the time (both ways!)
- Finally, never make the mistake of building a pedestal for your self. This will mean schizophrenia – feeling betrayed and angry on yourself – can give rise to a very destructive vicious loop.
So that’s it for now. One leader said it best “ Once you know all the pedestals are just dolls, it takes a tremendous weight off your shoulders and the world becomes your playground – enjoy it”. Would you agree?
After twenty years of playing IT leadership roles, I am taking some time off to read, reflect, and share thoughts on Leadership and Technology. I am specifically interested in how we can use these to further our success. You can find my work at https://nsubra.com and 2-minute daily posts at https://angulam.in