“If I have seen further, it is only because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton
One of the greatest scientific rivalries of the modern era produced this, one of the best known quotes in history. Sir Isaac Newton, the man who discovered gravity, and Robert Hooke, a genius polymath, were considered to be two of the most brilliant men of their day. They also could not stand each other. The origin of their feud was not over scientific findings, but who they credited for the discovery. Hooke was considered somewhat arrogant, and believed that his discoveries were his and his alone. Newton believed differently. He believed that his discoveries were only possible because of the work done by other brilliant people in the past. In a letter to Robert Hooke, Newton used the now famous expression with respect to his own accomplishments. It showed a level of humble recognition that he was only a part of a chain of discovery. This belief that he was part of something bigger than himself served Newton well in his professional life, and in his reputation after his death. After all, everyone knows who Sir Isaac Newton is, but have you ever heard of Robert Hooke?
What is it that attracts and keeps young and talented people in organizations? Gifted workers want to be employed in positions in which they can stretch themselves and achieve great things. When they are hired by a company, they want to be able to build on what has already been accomplished. They want to “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Great leadership is to give those around and below us a compelling belief in what they can do and provide the support they need to do it. Leaders strive to be the giants that allow their teams to thrive.
To encourage, to advocate, to champion and recognize talent–these are the traits that allow us to serve as those giants. This requires us to invest time and energy into our employees, to care about them and push them to be better. It requires wisdom, strong character, and deep humility. A great leader, much like Newton, recognizes that they once stood upon the shoulders of others to get where we are now. Think about your own mentors, how they taught and cultivated your talent, how they cared about your future. That is the kind of “giant” you want to be. Caring about others draws them into our world and helps them gain the vision and perspective needed to bring their best energy and efforts to a goal or task. This mentality of selfless leadership is not to be made light of, or casually dismissed as unimportant by others who don’t understand it. It is how you bring the best out of people, and how they can bring out the best in you.
If we don’t invest time in knowing the needs, values, and passions of those we lead, then we, by omission, invalidate their worth. If too much ego or too little discipline prevents us from showing that we care about those with whom we work, we are just taking up room where giants are needed. I challenge us all to be those whose shoulders lift up others to see further, and to be all they can be.