When it comes to leadership, ‘greatness’ is a journey, not a destination

Even if you are recognized as a top project manager (PM) or leader, when it comes to leadership, ‘greatness’ is a journey, not a destination. It’s about what you learn as a leader, how you evolve, and what you do to mentor and influence other people along the way. You don’t just arrive at ‘greatness’ in a single moment or through a single act, and it certainly doesn’t just happen without deliberate intention and action. 

“I wake up each day with the firm conviction that I am nowhere near my full potential. ‘Greatness’ is a verb.” – Maurice Ashley

Maurice Ashley, the first African-American International Grandmaster and 2016 US Chess Hall of Fame member, views greatness as small acts throughout time that make you better tomorrow than you were today. Many view greatness as a destination. Winning a championship or being recognized as a Hall of Famer means you are great, but it does not mean the journey is over.

A failure Maurice points to as a pivotal moment in his life: playing Grandmaster Michael Bezold from Germany. If Maurice wins, he gets the title of International Grandmaster which is the most prestigious title in chess. After a greedy move lead to his demise, Grandmaster Alexander Shavalov reassured Maurice of his mistake. Shavalov tells Maurice, “In order to become a Grandmaster, you must already be one.”

“In order to become a Grandmaster, you must already be one.” A quote so nice I had to write it twice.

Everyone is always looking for the title of project manager or senior vice president of [insert division/department here]. The way to become those is to already be one. The title does not make you that, your career and results make you who you are.

In jiu-jitsu, there is a very similar attitude. You get promoted to a new belt not because you have attended classes three days a week for three years. You get promoted because you have been that new belt for a few months. You have proven your skills and knowledge over a consistent amount of time to make the professor feel comfortable promoting you.

The same applies to project management. You watch others and get an idea of their abilities. No one becomes a leader because you put them in a leadership role. They are already leaders amongst the group of their colleagues. You see them taking control when a situation gets out of hand. You rely on them to pass information to the crew.

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