The Great Man is who we’re told throughout our career and lives that we should aspire to be. Regardless of gender, race or life experience, they’re the celebrated individuals that we put on a pedestal with the hope that they will guide us to success.
The likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Margaret Thatcher are the alpha characters we’ve allowed to define for us what being ‘great’ means. But the myth of their supposed heroic brilliance causes us to feel trapped in their shadows, feeling like we’re never quite good enough.
With the Great Man model so deeply entrenched, we feel like we should always be striving for that bigger job, fancier title or more money. We believe that when we get these things it will mean that we ‘have it all’, like they do.
But the cold hard truth is that often none of these things really give us the success and fulfilment we authentically want in our lives. We can be left feeling like an impostor who isn’t up to the task we’ve been asked to perform.
We then spend our days unhappily acting out the role we think is expected of us, waiting to be exposed. We pretend to be ‘great’ and to know it all ourselves, while deep down recognising that in reality we are just as lost as everyone else.
What happens when the Great Man dies?
For me, the moment this changed was that day sitting in the office of an executive recruitment firm.
“You have the potential to take on a bigger role,” my programme assessor told me. “You would do really well in a larger business where you can have a greater impact.”
Throughout my career, that type of statement would have been music to my ears. It would have boosted my ego and helped fuel my ambition. But this time something was different. I found myself questioning the motive of the person saying this.
This time, although I still felt a desire to do more with my life, rather than feel excited about another role where I was ‘the leader’, I felt indifferent. It was in this moment I realised that for me, the Great Man had finally died.
I finally saw through all of all the false promises and unattainable achievements the Great Man sets out for us. For others I’ve met, the Great Man died when they lost respect for someone they worked for. Or it was simply when they recognised that they no longer wanted to feel like an impostor.
That moment of enlightenment, in truth, is earth-shatteringly exhilarating. It's when we let go of the belief that we need to be seen as ‘great’ by others, replacing it with a focus on what success and fulfilment means for us.
It's the realisation that we’re all human beings, that none of us is perfect and that we each have an identity and reason for being that is ours to own. This means we can stop trying to live how others tell us, and instead create our own path in life.
Creating your own path
Without a hero to emulate, it's easy to run in circles or feel lost. There are three key questions that can help us:
-- Who am I? This helps us be clear on the authentic identity we want to adopt and ultimately who we want to see in the mirror each day.
-- Why am I here? This helps us understand what is most important to us, which helps us prioritise where we focus.
-- How will I lead and live? This helps us act with mindful intention, ensuring that we more consciously show up as who we want to be and focus on that which is most important to us.
For some these questions can lead to the realisation that you’re happy where you are. For others it might lead to a desire to stop feeling like an impostor, to gain the fulfillment and success you’re seeking across all parts of your life. But for all of us, when we put the Great Man behind us, we finally get the freedom to choose what we do with our own lives.
Rob Cross is founder and CEO Of Muru Leadership and author of ‘The Great Man is Dead’ is out now and available as a print, digital and audio book from Amazon, Kindle, Audible, Apple Books, Waterstones, and the Book Depository
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