No Sympathy for the Devil

Seth Godin’s free e-book to complement Linchpin just came out.  It’s called Insubordinate: Linchpins are Everywhere You Look (vol.1) and it profiles – incredibly simply – linchpins Seth has had “the pleasure (the joy) to know and work with over the last 20 years.”

Seth divides the world into three types of people:

  1. Linchpins
  2. Supporters
  3. Leeches, Advocates for the Devil, and Bystanders (aka people in a pre-linchpin state)

Here’s how Seth describes his attitude towards the third group:

The third group, as you’ve probably guessed, are the pessimists, the obstructionists and the protectors of the status quo. Driven largely by fear, they set out to slow you down, whittle you down and average you down. Mostly, it’s not their fault, though, because they’ve been brainwashed and don’t yet realized how powerful and productive it is to take a different route. It’s tempting to call these people out by name and to demonstrate how their fear is robbing so many people of a chance to make a difference. I won’t, though, because it’s not productive.

It’s that last bit that really caught my attention (which is why I bolded it, Seth didn’t).

Just last week I met with someone whose passion is transforming the status quo in the nonprofit sector.  In this aspiration, he and I are perfectly aligned.  But, as I told him, I wish he’d tweak his strategy by following Seth’s example here, by appreciating how non-productive it is to expend a lot of energy calling out the people who he sees as part of the problem, the people who don’t meet his standards.

The mark of experience, the mark of leadership, to me, is recognizing that the most positive, far-reaching change comes from highlighting the bright spots, from holding up and celebrating what is working, and giving it as much space and fertile ground as possible to flourish.  Sure, shocking news grabs the headlines, sells copies of The National Enquirer, and gets people to tune in to the 11 o’clock news.  But there truly is nothing easier than sitting on the sidelines, tearing others down and saying “I could do it better.”

The thing is, I bet you could do it better – so go ahead and do it.  That’s what the world really needs now: more insubordinates and fewer bystanders.

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