True leadership means no followers. They just inspire the so-called followers to follow the vision. A true leader is the first follower of the vision.

By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin

If a leader demonstrates that his purpose isnoble, that the work will enable people toconnect with something largemore permanent than their material existencepeople will give the best of themselves to theenterprise”  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I Don’t Work For Jeff Weiner

I’ve been at LinkedIn for close to two years now. When I first accepted the job, my conversation with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner went something like this:

Fred: “I’ll work for you.”
Jeff: “Don’t work for me, work for the vision.”

It’s a critical point. Leadership is the process through which a person elicits other people’s internal commitment to a shared vision. Leadership is, therefore, inspirational. Leaders inspire what managers cannot incentivize: people giving the best of themselves. This “best” is what the great Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “the soul.”

Perhaps the best way to explain what the word “soul” connotes is that, no matter how complex a system is, we judge it as having no soul if all its energies are devoted merely to keeping itself alive and growing. We attribute soul to those entities that use some portion of their energy not only for their own sake, but to make contact with other beings and care for them. In this framework, the soulless banker has no attention left for anything but his own goals.”

No human being can deserve another’s soul energy. Our souls are made to care for, not to surrender to another. That’s why true leaders have no followers. True leaders inspire the so-called followers to follow the vision.

This creates an “optical illusion” of consciousness. In a race, it looks like all the racers are following the leader. That’s not the case. All racers are trying to get to the goal, the leader is simply the one closest to it.

In an organization, it looks like all the members are following the leader. That’s not the case. All members are trying to manifest to the vision, the leader is simply the one closest to it.

True Leadership: A true leader is the first follower of the vision, that’s why it looks like the followers are following her, rather than the vision.

Jeff Weiner Works For Me

I brought this point up with one of LinkedIn’s founders, Reid Hoffman.

Fred: “Why did you hire Jeff as CEO?”
Reid: “Because I trust him to manage Linkedin to realize my vision better than I can manage it myself.”

Reid Hoffman is one of the founders and largest shareholder of Linkedin. As the chairman of the board, Jeff formally works for him. Reid hired Jeff because he trusts his commitment to their shared vision, and his ability to manage Linkedin to realize it, an ability he believes exceeds his own.

I feel just like Reid. I am the founder and largest shareholder of myself. When Linkedin hired me, I “hired” Jeff as my CEO. I hired him because I trust his commitment to our shared vision, and his ability to manage me to realize it, an ability I believe exceeds my own.

Find more exercises related to true leadership and mindfulness at work here

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