Take Off Those Ego-Tinted Spectacles

Artist: Unknown

As we all know, youth is a quest for identity and belonging. When I was at school I had a strong sense of my own identity, but wasn’t too sure where I belonged.

There were the Sports Boys who talked press-ups and poly-gym, fixtures and fights. They were jokers and gamblers, and full of derring-do. There were the Cool Kids who conversed about mousse, gel and Jam lyrics. They wore Never Mind the Bollocks badges on their blazer lapels and had their ears pierced at Debenhams in Romford. And then there were the Swots. Socially awkward, clinically shy, they debated the Napoleonic Wars, Virginia Woolf and wildlife documentaries. They were quietly competitive around arcane knowledge and academic grades.

I guess most of my peers would have put me down as one of the Swots, though I have had a lifelong aversion to David Attenborough’s oeuvre. Nonetheless I liked to move discreetly between the various groups. And I achieved this by offering free Latin translations every morning on the low wall by the Tuck Shop.

For the most part each student group inhabited their own self-contained world. There was very little interaction between the clusters. But occasionally they would look up and make cutting observations on outsiders. It was a way of reinforcing belonging. I was struck by the fact that the Sports Boys thought all the other boys were spineless, weedy wimps. The Cool Kids laughed at the other kids’ sartorial blunders, their poor haircuts and oafish musical choices. The Swots just thought everyone else was stupid.

Fundamentally all my young friends saw the world through the prism of their own particular tastes and competencies. They wore Ego-Tinted Spectacles.

It was only after I had been in the work environment for some time that I realised we were still wearing our Ego-Tinted Spectacles. Our world order and sense of priority were primarily determined by our own qualities, strengths and achievements.

This phenomenon could sometimes extend to company leaders who set objectives in line with their personal goals; surrounded themselves with people with a similar set of skills; and appointed like-minded acolytes to senior positions. The trouble is that a tendency to monoculture can make a business inflexible, impermanent and vulnerable to external threat. And of course the curse of great leaders is often to anoint successors who are merely pale imitations of themselves. (Consider Alex Ferguson…)

I’m a firm believer that leaders demonstrate an ability to magnify their own particular strengths. Leadership for me is The Amplified Self. But the very best leaders must also have an equally strong sense of their own shortcomings. They address those shortcomings by co-opting colleagues whose virtues are equal and opposite. They recognise and reward the very qualities they lack themselves. And they understand that long-term business success is achieved through diversity of working method, culture and style.

So, if you want to get on, if you fancy yourself as a leader, try seeing the world from other people’s perspectives. Take off those Ego-Tinted Spectacles. And ‘put yourself in my place.’

‘Put yourself in my place,
If only for a day.
See if you can stand
The awful hurt I feel inside.’

Put Yourself in My Place/The Elgins/ Holland-Dozier-Holland

No. 67