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Hiding Your Leadership:
The Jersey Joe Walcott Way of Leading

Brent Filson

Former heavyweight champ Jersey Joe Walcott was training for a fight against a boxer who had a ferocious left hook. Asked if he was worried, Jersey Joe replied, "Nope. I'll take his left hook and put it in his pocket."

Walcott's low key, wry, confident attitude matched his boxing style. He hardly looked as if he was fighting at all. It was more like Aikido than boxing, the martial art that controls an attacker by redirecting their energy instead of blocking it.

Jersey Joe didn't attack. He lured his opponent to him. He shuffled "the Walcott Shuffle." He created ingenious punching angles. He feinted not only with his hands but with his shoulders. He threw a sneaky right hand counter and a counter-punch left.

In other words, Jersey Joe, to better employ his boxing abilities, hid those abilities. Jersey Joe Walcott provides a lesson in leadership.

To be a better leader, do what most leaders neglect to do, are even ignorant of: hide your leadership.

Why would you want to hide your leadership? After all, isn't a leader supposed to stand out? When you're a leader, aren't you supposed to be the center of attention, telling people to do things?

Yes, that way of being a leader is appropriate if you are viewing leadership in its conventional terms and getting average results.

But if you want to be a leader who gets consistently great results, remember Jersey Joe, if only for this simple, powerful dictum most leaders miss. People are more effective not when they are "ordered to ..." but when they "want to ..." Having people "want to" through your leadership is the drive shaft of all great results.

Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, wrote 2500 years ago: "As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate ... When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves!'" In other words, the best leadership is the hidden leadership.

Leadership is about getting results, however one may define those results. If you can't get results, you won't be a leader for long. But, clearly, you can't get results by yourself. You need others to help you do it. The "best" leader is the leader who gets the "best" results through the good offices of other people.

The best results are tied to a concept I've been teaching leaders for almost a quarter of a century: When they seek to get results, they should seek to get more results; they should seek to get faster results; and they should seek to get "more, faster" on a continual basis.

(For a discussion of what results really are I refer you to my web site and the articles section.)

If hiding your leadership doesn't help you get more results, faster results continually then it should be taken no more seriously than the notion that the moon is made of green cheese.

How does hiding your leadership achieve these results? The HOW is in "want to." But remember this: the people's motivation is not the choice of the leaders. It's the choice of the people. Leaders communicate, the people themselves motivate. They make the choice to motivate themselves. When your leadership is exhibited not on stage but behind the scenes guiding them to be motivated to make that choice, you're creating the super-charged environment conducive to the establishment of more results faster, continually.

What is the best way to hide your leadership? Hide your leadership by realizing the Leader's Imperative. "I will lead people in such a way that we not only accomplish the needed results but that we together help one another grow personally and professionally."

This has two parts: results accomplishments and self-improvement. You are never more powerful as a leader as when, in getting results, you are helping others be better than they are - even better than they thought they could be. And when you're realizing the Imperative, you are advancing yourself in the best way -- by advancing them.

Make hiding your leadership a way of life. Test every leadership situation against the Leadership Imperative. Build the Imperative into your strategy, tactics, and have it be a driving factor in your interpersonal relationships.

Two points of caution. First, don't mistake, or mistakenly communicate, the pejorative side of "hide." The word can have a negative connotation: i.e., that you have something to hide, or that you are running away from somebody or something, or that you are being secretive or sneaky.

Use the word in its positive sense; you are hiding your leadership to better realize the Leadership Imperative.

Second, hiding your leadership can turn into a failing if you don't hide it in a robust way. Hiding your leadership does not mean living an easy life for yourself - i.e., detaching yourself physically and emotionally from the people and doing your own thing. Instead, hiding your leadership means living a hard life for other people - i.e., working hard, taking risks, and putting yourself out to promote their welfare.

You will never know how really good you are as a leader unless you are leading people to be better than they think they are. You'll have a better chance of manifesting your best leadership when you lead the way Jersey Joe Walcott fought - and have the people say, "We did it ourselves!"

© 2006, 2007 The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's most recent books are: THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. - and for more than 21 years has been helping leaders of top companies worldwide get audacious results. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get a free white paper: "49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results," at

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