A Tale of Two Castles:
On a recent trip, we were able to visit the castle on the right, Neuschwanstein. We were only able to see the castle on the left, Hohenscwangau, from afar (click on the image to enlarge it). They both overlook the Pöllat Gorge in Germany. The purpose of showing them is that the story is one of rivalry. One
king had to outdo the other king in the ostentatious buildings. It is the classic case of “Look at Me” in the days of castles. A similar story was told on numerous occasions when we were visiting the many beautiful Cathedrals in Austria. A particular wing may have been added to a Cathedral, for example, to answer the call to compete with a larger Cathedral in the next town!
Look at Me
Unless we are engaged in something illicit, I think most of us appreciate being noticed. In my early business career, I wore expensive wool suits. It was more or less expected that successful business people would dress well. We even had a book to help us — Dress for Success by John T. Molloy. Some years later, the ladies got their own version of that book.
Now I’m successfully engaged in a somewhat different profession. My business dress code has gravitated to slip on dress shoes, dress shirt, blue jeans and a blue blazer. It seems that is the coach’s and professor’s proper attire. If I’m not “dressed up,” then I’m not wearing a blazer or dress shirt, but rather a “Hawaiian shirt.” The rest of the outfit is pretty much the same. If I’m going to your office and your dress code is for slacks rather than jeans, I’ll accommodate you — after all, it’s your business. But — no more three piece suits for me (okay, an occasional Tux, when warranted!)
Here’s the deal, though. My new dress code is still supposed to signal that “I’ve arrived.” I don’t have to use the outer trappings of success. I have earned the right to dress comfortably. I’m not asking you to like it or approve of it. The clothes do not make the person. Flashy and overly expensive clothes may be covering up a multitude of flaws (or, perhaps enhancing some really genuine personal value). But by fitting in and dressing the part of the coach, I am still playing the “notice me” game.
Noise vs Power
What got me thinking about this topic were several different questions from clients and a couple of very annoying motorcycles and hot-rod cars. The questions had to so with the attributes of leaders. As always, humility, self-assured, vision and emotional intelligence lead the list. In other words, quiet competence in getting work done through people. Definitely not a notice me attitude.
On the noise part: I can understand why commercial and fighter jets are very loud. The raw energy to launch those vehicles into the air is massive. The noise isn’t required, or enhanced in any way. It’s a natural byproduct of the combustion process of a jet engine. The noise is a result of not being able to engineer a power source that can be both quiet and powerful enough to launch those airplanes. When we can do so, I’m sure we will because stealth — both radar signature and noise — is preferred. Why announce you’re coming? Or in the case of the commercial airliner, why make airport neighbors angry?
A motorcycle or car, on the other hand, has no need to be excessively noisy. People, I think, equate the noise with power. That isn’t correct, but I think that’s what people believe. Electric cars prove my point. I’m told that the new Tesla Model 3 dual-motor performance car goes from 0 to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, real world. The only noise is wind and tires on pavement. I’m also given to believe that these powerful electric cars are so quiet that they may be fitted with noise makers so that pedestrians are aware of them. Now that’s powerful AND quiet.
Look at me! I think that’s what’s going on here. You must be pretty macho to drive that big noisy diesel truck, or loud motorcycle with straight pipes instead of a muffler, or that loud car that must be really fast because it’s so noisy! Unless we are driving on a racetrack, very few of us have the need (yes, I’m being judgmental) to have fast cars on state highways or city streets. Out here in sunny Southern California, we get to drive about 50 mph if we’re lucky! Are we getting anywhere faster and safer in our hot-rod cars? Or are we just making sure we’re noticed.
Look at Me Leadership
Leaders are not immune to the “look at me” syndrome. The big corner office, the special wash room, the reserved parking space and, of course, the outsized paycheck. These perks are meant to state that somehow the leader stands out from the rest of us. Yet true leaders do not prefer being noticed in that way. They prefer being noticed as great leaders, not holders of perks.
Whenever I get together with those who work with real-world leaders, the attributes line up a bit more with the powerful but quiet electric car analogy, not the big noisy motorcycle, car or truck. Sure, most people consider the new Electric Vehicles (EVs) to be luxury vehicles and they are certainly at the leading edge of technological advancement. They are still new enough that they are being noticed. Often it’s the same for the business leader.
The good news is we live in a country where we are pretty much free to chose our vehicle and our business leaders. We don’t have to agree and you don’t need my permission. Although, I will share with you that if you’re one of the loud vehicle guys, you annoy the living daylights out of me! Especially when I’m out jogging and trying to listen to my podcast. I don’t need more hearing loss!
We also get to chose our leaders. In this time of almost full employment, we can generally join any company that needs our services — assuming we have the qualifications. So there is no need to put up with a boss with whom you do not share core values. Quiet AND powerful. Works for me. How about you?